Every day we hear about organisations that fail by not being ‘close’ to their customer – the latest notable example is BHS – and we admire the shining examples such as Amazon who have grown through being close to their customers.  Being close to the customer seems a simple idea and should be easy to deliver.  So why is it that so many organisations fail to understand their customers or respond to their individual needs?

It is not a lack of data; indeed with analytics we have a wealth of information and some core findings that should bring us so much closer to the customer. Many organisations are effective at segmenting the market, identifying needs and defining the customer experience. But this is not enough.

The focus needs to centre on the customer journey and on finding better ways to engage more effectively with each customer – enhancing the experience in the process. Issues need to be resolved on multiple levels. Some questions to ask within our organisation are:

  • Is the customer really at the heart of the business model?
  • Are we structured and organised to make the most of the opportunities and to appreciate all the risks?
  • Have we set up communication channels that work?

It is important to build the connections within your organisation and take a holistic view on people issues. For example, when you change your organisational structure to focus on the customer you change the power relationships and therefore people interactions within the team.  There is a need to map the external landscape too.  How are you building the communications channels between marketing and sales for example and how will this team interact with the rest of the people in commercial. Is the supply chain really able to deliver to the new customer expectations? And what about your sales team? How are you recruiting and developing them to meet the challenges of the future?

OE Cam insights from our client’s experience highlight some top tips:

  • Take an overview of all the moving parts of your organisation, when you change one part of the process it will impact on others. For example when you change the structure, you should think about whether you have the right customer-facing staff
  • Go beyond the formal structures and processes; think about connections, where the power lies and the nature of the relationships
  • Use emotional intelligence when defining the customer script, or better still have a core process with flexibility to respond to the needs of the individual customer. It is a two way process and interactive; it feeds on itself and perpetuates miscommunication. Active listening is critical and on-going
  • The sales force is vital as they are the interface with the customer.  Relationships matter; the highest sales performers build depth as well as breadth and they simply get out there more often. Characteristics of successful sales people include energy, good rapport, highly directed with a strong locus of control and extrovert. They dress for success and make it happen through tenacity, sensitivity to the needs of the customer and awareness of the dynamic.

So if your organisation truly wants to get closer to the customer, take time to focus on the basics; the right people in the right place doing the right things to make the organisation success. Back this up with processes, structure and a culture that encourages excellent interactions with both internal and external customers.  Align your operating model around the customer journey and reward and recognise the behaviours that make that interaction a success.  Do not be afraid to take risk and aim for the sky but back it up with focus, energy and a constructive approach to people and their interaction with customers.