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Is the Customer King in your Business?

The Governor of the Bank of England recently gave an interview to a British broadsheet newspaper and in it he suggested that the retail banks in the UK were still putting short term profits ahead of customers’ interests.  I’m not going to wade into that debate but it got me thinking about the way in which customers interests’ are commonly viewed by businesses.

It’s well-known that the lexicon of business is widely strewn with slogans and credos like “The customer is king” and “No-one ever won an argument with a customer” but all too often business owners and managers trot out these well-rehearsed lines while in many cases their staff and their own actions don’t live up to them.  Invariably the shortcomings are very noticeable in service-based businesses but the problem is just as damaging where the product is more tangible.  For me it is simple: take care of your customers properly and increased shareholder value ought to follow.

So what’s so difficult about it and why do people get it wrong?  I think ultimately it’s a matter of leadership: it comes from the top and needs to be integrated into every function and activity within the organisation.  It starts with the business review process and the development of strategy and then needs to be reinforced and repeated in everything the organisation says or does.  The trouble is that the soul searching nature of a review of your business can often get you focusing on internal matters rather than seeing your organisation through the eyes of your customers.  Frequently I sit in meetings where the strengths and weaknesses of businesses are reviewed and regularly observe that little or no consideration has been given to the customers’ views of these issues.  And then, even if you get that right, the next tricky bit is to ensure that you continue to walk the walk and talk the talk in everything you do.

What should you do?  There are obviously any number of approaches but I think it’s about developing the ability to see things as the customer sees them.  Seventeen years back, in my business at the time, I trialled a Japanese methodology called Quality Function Deployment (QFD).  Sounds complicated, and is, but it did have one very nice element to it: a key step in the process is to ensure that “The Voice of the Customer” is heard throughout the organisation.  The expression is a rather clunky translation from the Japanese but its meaning was to ensure that the customers’ needs and expectations were known and understood throughout the organisation and that everything that was done in every area of the business took into account these factors.  I’m certainly not recommending using QFD and I’ve long since stopped using it myself but the point about hearing the voice of the customer continues to resonate with me and is an important lesson.

So what about in your business: is the customer really king?  Can your organisation hear the voice of the customer?  Answer truthfully.  If not, and you’d like it to, I’m sure we can help.

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