Curt Rosengren, my "are you passionate about your job enough" conscience sent me a link to a fascinating article written by the Gallop Management Journal (First Break All The Rules, Now Discover Your Strengths, Follow This Path) called Roadblocks to Customer Engagement (Part I). It continues the conversation on the topic I was writing about on Monday, Keep Talking.
"Marketers are rediscovering that strong customer relationships are essential if companies want to avoid the downward spiral into commodity status that comes from competing on price alone. Throughout the halls of corporate America, banners proclaim programs such as "Putting Customers First," being more "Customer-Centric," or "Becoming a Customer-Focused Organization." These initiatives may be part of a culture change or a back-to-the-basics effort. However, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, published by the Institute of Social Research, only a handful of such programs succeed on a sustained basis.
Why? On the surface, these programs may appear well-designed. Companies measure their customers’ perceptions and satisfaction levels, compensate employees on improving satisfaction scores, and then teach employees the best approach to interact with customers.
But even if these steps are well-executed, "customer-centered" efforts often encounter serious obstacles. For a company to truly put customers first, it must focus all its processes, systems, infrastructure, policies, and practices on that goal. The problem is, too many organizations are structured in ways that hinder achieving world-class levels of customer engagement."
They go on to give reasons why these efforts often fail, including obvious ones like people focusing on the rewards rather than the outcome (scamming the system) or competing for valued outcomes at the expense of the rest of the organization (or even the whole initiative). My favorite failure is that companies expect behavior that isn't natural for the people they've hired. Can someone hired for their competitive tenacity, their cut-throat "win-at-all-costs" action-orientation, or their "logical prowess and smarts" be expected to be open to customer feedback, to solving customer issues, or adopting a true "customer focus?" Some ya. Many, no.
I was in a meeting yesterday with our division executives, and as we were explaining our efforts to build partner communications tools, our VP stated very clearly (to my delight) that we were to be very careful not to focus too heavily on the "technology" of our tools, rather focus on understanding and meeting our partner needs, even if it meant doing things manually. Of course I nodded my head in violent agreement, but it was great to hear it from the highest-ranking executives I deal with in my job.
Some of the comments left after my last posting were exactly right (one email from Ballmer doesn't mean the ship's turned around), but there are many, many daily examples of individuals doing the right things. And hopefully--in response to the Gallup article--for the right reason.