Leading by example for a customer focus

A recent article headlined ‘FIRMS BOOST CUSTOMER FOCUS’ revealed PWC’s findings that over 80% of chief executives expect to reformulate their current approaches to customer growth, retention and loyalty in 2013. Over 80%! Clearly this shift in focus is not simply a ‘trend’, it’s here to stay. It’s a reality that will continue to require flexibility and review; with a constantly changing customer landscape, senior leaders cannot simply decide to change their approach during annual planning and then ‘see how it goes’ – they too have to constantly adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of their customers.

We all know that Marketers have a vital role to play in helping companies create value for their customers and thereby drive growth - but real customer focus needs to be driven from the very top. It is, after all, a cultural orientation and therefore requires the leadership team behind it.

My research in this area has highlighted to me just how important a role the top team play in 2013 when it comes to leading by example and putting the customer at the heart of the business.  Three top examples that caught my eye include:

1. Walking the Talk

Many companies invest time and money in extensive internal communications instructing employees to put customers first – but how many are actually demonstrating how to do this in a compelling way?  A recent and powerful demonstration of this is when a new CEO in a leading financial services organisation recognised that employees were very internally focused and not making customers a priority. His parking space was in pole position right in front of the company whereas customer parking was around the back. After communicating their new customer strategy the first thing he did was cross out his name on his parking space, painting it over with ‘customer’, and then parked his car in the back.  I’m sure this story spread through the organisation far faster than the cascade of the new customer strategy!

2. Regularly Spend Time with Customers

Companies have an increasing range of data sources from which to gain insight about their customers but a key challenge, particularly for more senior leaders, is regularly making time to stay in touch with customers. McDonalds has addressed this challenge in Europe with a new programme they called Market Quest; the first step involves their top team working alongside both customers and staff, discussing the latest consumer trends and the impact on each other’s lives and behaviour.  They also undertake ‘Retail Safaris’ to gain understanding about what’s happening on the high street. The second stage of the programme involves sharing each other’s perspectives, brainstorming ideas and jointly developing strategies.  Their VP for Business Strategy & Insight claims “Market Quest builds a common understanding among the leadership team about what’s most important to our customers when it comes to our restaurants and our brand.”  

3. Keep Customers at the Top of the Agenda

It’s no good if the rest of the business focuses on the customer if the customer is not actually high on the agenda when the top team meet to make decisions. Having mapped out the customer experience (i.e. the end to end customer experience including all people who have direct contact with customers and those behind the scenes) the top team at FedEx takes control of it and meets monthly to review. They conduct research to establish what matters most to customers, and when they find problems launch initiatives to solve them; this involves enrolling not only their own employees but also their business partners in the change required.

There’s plenty of evidence that shows that focusing on customers makes commercial sense. It was only a few years ago when Dominos was heavily criticised online by customers for the quality of their pizzas, calling their crusts ‘cardboard’ and sauce ‘ketchup’.  CEO Patrick Doyle faced up to this online, playing back to customers their criticisms with promises of ‘The Pizza Turaround’ project, a bold and self-deprecating campaign that resonated with customers.  But while developing an improved pizza recipe YouTube videos of staff spitting on pizzas went viral in April 2009, leading directly to a 10% drop in stock price. Patrick again immediately addressed the issue head on – going on YouTube to acknowledge this latest problem and to explain to customers what they were going to do. He was convinced that if he was straight with customers, and they saw he was acting in their interest, the business could begin to re-build trust with them. This transparent and honest approach was appreciated; just over a year later they become the 4th largest e-commerce site in the U.S. Today, Dominos has close to 8 million ‘likes’ on their Facebook page and has won praise for their ‘Fan comment of the week’ approach, where they take a comment directly from a fan and officially post it on their Facebook wall for all to see:

Domino's Facebook Page

Are you included amongst the 80% group that plans on refocusing your agenda on the customer in 2013? If so, ask yourself what you’re going to do differently – whether large or small – to truly ‘Walk the Talk’.

Domino's Facebook Photo © Domino's Pizza 2013

If you want to read about leader Liz Lacovara, Global Director Demand Capabilities at Mars, implementing these examples in practice, click here

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly on LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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