Customer-Responsive: To Be or Not to Be?
If you are a conglomerate, holding company or some other manifestation of a multi-business-unit enterprise, the concept of customer responsive may not mean much to you.
Why should it? Your customers are essentially your stockholders, right? People may not even recognize your company name. You guys just roll up the revenue and expenses from all of the subsidiary companies and make sure that everyone is contributing to the bottom line. Along the way, you may spin off companies for profit or acquire promising companies to make them profitable. This is why a customer responsive strategy is key.
It is pointless to worry about image, markets or customer perceptions. After all, no one ever bought a loaf of Wonder Bread, trusted their assets to Hartford Insurance or stayed in a Sheraton hotel because they were ultimately owned by ITT.
When the issue becomes customer responsiveness, you really need to be focusing on the business that actually touches the customers involved. Think about it, the three companies listed above are in completely different lines of business. The issues motivating or concerning the customers of Hartford Insurance likely have little to do with the issues that are important to buyers of Wonder Bread or those who patronize the Sheraton.
On the other hand, if you are in the business of making bread, selling insurance or offering lodging to harried travelers, the voice of the customer is what it’s all about.
Getting the voice of the customer plugged into your planning and performance strategy is critical. Customer responsive actions are critical in a world that is offering more and more choices and covering a wider range of functionality at prices quoted in a dizzying array of plans and formats.
The concept is really simple. You can approach business in two ways:
- You can build stuff and then send messaging out to try and convince people that they need what you’ve made.
- Or, you can listen to what your customer is asking for and then build that.
Guess which one is easier to sell?
But the process does not stop with making what people want to buy. Listening to your customer is important in other areas of your business. Consider the following questions that may well impact how your customers select vendors.
- Green initiatives – How important are green issues to your customers? Would they be interested in your commitment or lack of commitment to environmental issues?
- Domestic content – Are your customers concerned about loss of jobs to overseas operations? This may impact your own plans for outsourcing or offshoring production.
- Supplier associations – Does your supply chain include companies that are operating in politically or socially oppressive countries? Who you do business with may be important to government customers or socially concerned customers.
Other areas that are customer-centric are flexibility in delivery, reliability of promise dates and willingness to entertain special requests. When you put the customer in charge, you have to be prepared to listen and respond accordingly.
Customer responsiveness is the best way to focus your business on the delivery of value.
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