ALC English Journal Article Feb 2013

Communicating With Other Teams

QUESTION: “I work in customer service, and have trouble working with people from other departments because they don’t seem to understand the real problems our business is facing. Help!”

You’re lucky to work in customer service! Working directly with customers is the best way to stay connected to what really matters in any business. Sam Walton, founder of the enormously successful Walmart stores, once said “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company, from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

The customer is largely invisible in many organizations! While there are many “internal customers” in any business, the ultimate customer is the one who pays money in exchange for products or services. I recommend being obsessed with this customer. Why doesn’t everyone in your company automatically understand the importance of your customers? Why doesn’t everyone seem to understand the real problems your business is facing related to customers? Here are a few reasons:

  •  The customer usually doesn’t appear on the organization chart.
  • Customers don’t usually directly impact salary or promotions.
  • Performance goals and metrics are not tied to customer delight.
  • Many employees have no direct experience with real customers.

Make your entire company “customer-centric”. Employees who clearly perceive their impact on customers are more customer-focused in their thinking and behavior. Here are a few practical approaches that can help your colleagues more strongly connect with real customer issues:

  1. Post quotes, pictures and stories from customers where everyone will see them. One creative person made videos of customers talking about their frustrations with products and services and then played them in the common areas so everyone could hear the “voice of the customer” (VOC).
  2. Invite your colleagues to be a guest worker in the customer service department for a day. Even a brief experience interacting with real customers can shift a person’s mindset.
  3. Take your colleagues on a customer visit. One uncooperative engineer immediately implemented a design change that had been labeled as an “unnecessary enhancement request” after witnessing the frustration of a real customer.
  4. Reward the behavior that you want people to repeat. Unfortunately people who do the right things properly often go unnoticed. Honor people who are helpful to customers with a “Customer Excellence Award”. Simply print up a certificate of appreciation and present it with a gift card for a Starbuck’s coffee. Post award winners visibly. Use your own money for the coffee if you must!
  5. Work with your HR Department to tie performance evaluations, raises, bonuses, and promotions to customer delight. People become more customer-centric when rewards are tied to their contribution to a positive customer experience. Of course this means you need to measure customer delight. The “Net Promoter Score (NPS)”, described in “The Ultimate Question” by Fred Reichheld, is a popular way to do this.
  6. Persuade your executives to talk obsessively about the importance of focusing on customers. Executives must make customers a priority in their conversations, both formal and informal, so that everyone understands the importance of being “customer-centric”.

If you want to transform your colleagues you’ve got to be a relentless champion of the customer. Raise people’s awareness about what really matters by helping them get firsthand experience with real customers. And when you’re the CEO be sure to put the customer on the organization chart – at the top!


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