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We all need to make time for our clients, irrespective of our position or role in the company
Do you remember that TV show, Undercover Boss, in which a senior executive, often the CEO, would disguise him or herself and spend a week working on the shop floor? The purpose of the exercise was to enable the boss to find out what the junior workers thought about the company and its management and to get some insights for improvement.
The show became compelling viewing with versions from around the world still being repeated today on some UK TV channels. It’s easy to understand why. For a start Undercover Boss showcased the challenges of a variety of business sectors. But the programme also revealed some home truths which not only served as a warning for all leaders, they also seemed to come as a surprise to the leaders who took part in the programme. Yes at times the workers were fairly outspoken, bringing to light some practices which it may not have been good for customers to hear; but at other times the people involved revealed an engagement with, and loyalty to, the company which went far beyond mere job descriptions.
More than that, the programme also highlighted the importance of the way in which leaders interacted with their organisations. The fact that some had never worked at or even communicated regularly at this level may seem strange to those who understand that the traits of great leaders include inspiring, encouraging and enabling; all of which require some level of interaction. The fact that some had never even though about doing it and yet still believed they understood their company was revealing indeed. This last point is key – to deliver success, Directors have to get out of their ‘ivory tower’ office or dining room and go into the real world!
Of course that message doesn’t just come from shows such as Undercover Boss and interactions shouldn’t solely be confined to the leader/employee relationship. It’s one thing to find out what is happening within the company, quite another to understand what your customers really think of the business and its products. When Andy Green was appointed CEO at Logica in 2008, he said that he wanted to visit one client each week. This is a wonderful statement to make, not only does it show the intent to the client base but it sends a powerful message to management and staff throughout the company. The point being that if the CEO is talking to clients, then so should we! Oh, and if the CEO isn’t talking to clients then quite frankly in an era in which delivering customer excellence is increasingly becoming the differentiator then you can forget future success.
The bottom line here is that we all need to make time for our clients, irrespective of our position or role in the company. As we know our clients not only ‘repeat buy’ if they are happy with the service or product we provide, but they will tell others; and a suggestion from someone you know is the best possible recommendation. In fact, our clients are our best salesmen.
So how to achieve this outward looking / client focused approach?
It has to be led from the top, from senior management by encouragement and by example. Forget targets and building the need for client discussions into job descriptions. Unless the culture of the organisation values customer interactions and unless the leadership is prepared to ‘walk the talk’ then nothing is going to change.
Why should you bother? Never forget we live in an era of increasing homogeneity; your good idea or product today can be copied across the world tomorrow. That, as we mentioned above, puts the client relationship at the heart of the business. We also live in an era in which Generation Z is coming to the fore. That generation expects to be involved in product development, to have a relationship with their chosen provider which goes far beyond mere supply and demand.
Those two facts alone highlight the importance of the client being brought into the discussion and of the client relationship being central to product, strategy and targets. Some companies already have this type of culture, so for them it is natural. For others it is far more difficult particularly as the first hurdle is the decision to even make the change.
Some of your staff, particularly those in a client facing role, will be ‘client-aware’, so this is a good starting point, but, in our experience, client awareness has to run through the entire organisation or it won’t deliver success. So it’s up to the leadership to establish an environment in which everyone is encouraged to work together and feels able to communicate easily and freely both within the business and with clients.
What would your ‘undercover boss’ report say about your client relationships? Perhaps for the sake of the future success of your company it’s time to find out.