Thursday, 31 May 2007

Customer Age Thinking It’s the YOU That Counts

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Several stories in the news recently bring hope that at last increasing numbers of firms are "getting it!" They are seemingly starting to understand what the real benefits of embedding BPM thinking can do for /will mean to them. For years we have been bombarded with marketing messages and TV commercials proclaiming "Me, me, me", the objective being if we keep telling people how wonderful we are then surely they will buy or keep buying from us. But, of course in a world of extreme competition the rules have changed and it no longer matters how good your company thinks it is – it is what benefit I can gain from using you rather than your competitor that counts.

For years the giant Coca Cola Corporation has traded on the slogan "Coke, it's the real thing", but alas as the company continues to see itself in decline it has decided to change its image and its slogan. It has now launched its new slogan "The Coke side of life" in attempt to appeal to a wider audience and of course play more to people's emotions. Of course there are those who might argue that it is madness to tinker with one of the world's top brands. However if your sales have been in reverse for 5 years then surely the message has to get through sooner or later – it is madness to keep doing the same things the same way and expecting different results! It will take quite some time to see how it works and more importantly whether they are using this message as part of a bigger internal transformation initiative. From an outside perspective it will be very interesting to see whether this change mars the end of traditional internal management controls and measures to an outside view, looking in on the business from the customer's perspective and focusing their efforts on reorganizing around the customer. So Coca Cola are going to switch to playing more on the emotions of their customers (and hopefully their staff too), meanwhile another well know brand has also switched its external messaging.

The Canon Corporation has launched a new series of TV commercials (at least in the UK), for years we have been bombarded with the slogan "If anyone can Cannon can!" but, who cares how good Canon Corporation is, what we are about is the problem or need we have at hand. It would appear that Canon are now realizing this too and have decided to switch to the slogan "With Canon You Can!", they are recognizing that it us not them that counts. From their advertising at least they appear to be starting to look at the world from the outside in. It has to be said that it can hardly be coincidence that as they embark upon this new line it is against the backdrop of slowing sales growth over the past three years (but in markets that are continually growing).

These initiatives are in stark contrasts to the ones underway at organizations such as Nationwide Building Society in the UK, Citibank in Germany or Capital One worldwide. These organizations too are making big changes in their public image and spending more time on the "You" factor, organizing their efforts around Successful Customer Outcomes. Why do they provide contrast? Put simply the three organizations mentioned here are undertaking the required business transformation at a time when their sales, profits and margins are all on the increase. In the case of Capital One, many people find it amazing that they should be questioning the very way that they do business, think of customers and motivate staff at a time when they are among the most successful players in their chosen market. They simply get it! It is a journey not a destination, if they cannot move to a business model where agility and constant innovation tied to customer needs, then they now that they will have already started the downward spiral.

For established organizations this is a very hard thing to see. Cultures build up over time and managers get promoted based on time served and experience in the "silo", rather than on fresh thinking, new ideas and radical change. This historical view of corporate management means that so many great names have still yet to fall. It will take time but those that do not change will fall. We only have to look at the Rover Car Company in the UK to see how it can work. Subsequent to the demise of Rover earlier this year a study into the management practices at Rover was undertaken by Cambridge University, and what they found was that Rover had been doomed since the mid 60's. They could see that none of the executive teams that led Rover over the past 30 years was willing to take the decisions required to ensure the company's survival. It was only a question of who would be at the helm when the company finally died! Will you be the one at the helm when history takes its toll on your organization?

An alternative approach to changing the reputation and culture of your organization was also tabled this week as NTL made a bid to Purchase Virgin Mobile. NTL touting the acquisition as enabling it to transform itself into one of the new breed of operators that will emerge – combining fixed and mobile phones with cable TV and internet provision. This on the face of it makes a lot of sense, becoming a one stop shop for the customer. But analysts were not so kind, as they read of the fact that NTL also proposed to re-brand itself as Virgin at the same time. The analysts recognize that in effect NTL is looking to try and mask its reputation for very poor customer service (there are numerous web sites out there run by disgruntled NTL customers as self-help sites!) by grafting on the excellent reputation held by Virgin. Apparently many see that taking on the task of making NTL more customer centric may be a bridge to far for Sir Richard Branson. Indeed one analyst, in providing advice to Sir Richard chose to use a quote from Warren Buffet, the undisputed king of successful mergers and acquisitions "When management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for poor fundamentals, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact."

In the final analysis in all organizations, large or small, we face a choice. Either to continue to focus on the idea that continual cost reduction based on traditional financial measures will save us from the stockholders and the deserting customers and that process improvement will make the difference. Or to start out on a radical journey that will certainly lead to the removal of unnecessary waste, while changing the very fabric of our organizations in order to ensure that we deliver what the customer needs, when they need it, and at a price they can afford. Further, that we use Process as a vehicle to enable us to better understand where and how that customer value is created and we switch to looking at our business from the outside in through the eyes of those customers. Then we reward our people based on a measurement system tied to the achievement of those customer successes and not on the basis of doing what I am paid for.

The choice is yours, nobody can force you to take the steps, but when faced with the choice of survival or extinction it would be a very foolhardy executive or manager that ignores the writing on the wall and focuses their attention on YOU – the customer.

Note: This article first appeared in 2006 on Mark McGregor's series of articles on


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