Career learning #1: Customer Focus

My IT career started as freelance technical support guy, I was 13 (this is a story for another series ... too early a biography :) and learnt first-hand that solving people problems was all that mattered ... soon I had a mobile phone and an agenda as too many people wanted my service ... no matter I kept raising my fees!

I've since joined and work for a company that is built on customer listening, Michael Dell once said his company has "Big Ears" ... there certainly are MANY ... as each employee has such a focus on understanding customers' needs and issues.

As we start a new quest as an independent software vendor, I count on keeping focus on customer needs and listening top of the agenda.

I especially like very demanding customer requests, those that really put you against limitation in processes/products/customs of the company … it’s always easier and more fulfilling to fight for change within the company when you know the “only boss” has given you that priority.

I’ve over time taken so many initiative to help customers, made a long series of mistakes during the journey, but never regret once having done that – a customer realize very quickly when you are their advocate, and despite what many says generating happy customers (externally or internally) is the best route to success in your personal career – and by experience it doesn’t matter how you define success, team members that live to advance the customer cause are always rewarded and supported by leadership. If they aren’t, then they seldom stay with the company (or their leader) – those are a-team members.

So, how do you foster your team passion for customers? Here my 3 easy-to-implement steps :

1/ Put your new hires in front of customers on day ONE.

                Organize your new hire induction process, so they learn first and foremost from your customers what good means, why your company exists, how problems happen but you can fix them. Ideally have them be at the customer service desk for the day, listen phone calls or meet them. Give them this script to run WITH EVERY customer they meet that day: “Dear customer, I have just joined “company name” and I’m trying to understand the recipe of their success - could you share with me why would you recommend this company to a friend to do business with?”

2/ Reward mistakes made to improve processes/product on customer request:

                Each company has “best employee” or “thumbs-up” rewards … doesn’t matter if there is a monetary element to it – a thank you note is always well appreciated, but more than rewarding the individual, it shows to the rest of the team exemplar behavior. So go ahead, reward an employee for a mistake done in the interest of customer. Put forward what the organizational learning was, why the employee did it, and thank the initiative to go against company “way of doing” to ensure things were done right for customer.

3/ Bring customers in your executive business reviews:

                Doesn’t need to be in person (albeit it’s always more powerful), but make sure to have customers voice heard by your executives – that being listening to a technical support call, or reading a thank you note to an employee, or reviewing a win/loss analysis on the largest deal from a quarter ago. Focus on what the customer is saying, why you win, why you lose. But always from their perspective, keep your BIG EARS on

So here you go, learning #1 – Focus on Customers, they are the only boss that matter and the true north for every business – make sure you know them, learn from them, get inspiration from ... as the say goes: they are always right.