by Lisa J. Marshall and Lucy Freedman
Where does success in business come from today?
Technological advantage might give you an edge - temporarily.
Anything you can do someone else can reverse engineer and redo
(probably better) within months, if not weeks. Being first to
market carries only a brief advantage. Price helps, but no longer
guarantees secure market position. Even at low cost, customers
expect service and will go where they can get it. Both inside
the organization and with customers, the only real strategy that
weathers adversity and takes advantage of opportunity - is a relationship
or people strategy.
A people strategy seems softer than the traditional
view of business strategy. In fact, customer strategy. But customer
loyalty is the strongest factor in business success. And the way
to get it is in the many consistent interactions that take place
every day, not in high-profile PR campaigns.
What happens when companies fail to notice and
take advantage of those relationships ? The account manager doesn't
hear that the customer's mail room folks went out of their way
to handle distribution of the last big order, just because they
like the freight guy. This manager doesn't know that the customer's
accounting people now love the service desk folks, because they
helped straighten out a billing error. Error begun in sale Or
that the customer's department manager, who wouldn't speak to
the sales rep, is now asking for advice on ordering new equipment.
If this account manager did know, he could find out what kinds
of questions are being asked and hot buttons being pushed, and
begin to earn more business by anticipating needs.
What prevents him from knowing these critical
strategic details? A work culture that can't take the time to
celebrate little victories, or give people strokes for turning
adversarial relationships into positive ones.
A culture focused on numbers, with little investment in employee
learning, or building a healthy organizational culture.
So he doesn't make an offer to expand help desk
services and this part of the business doesn't get developed.
He doesn't suggest the new mail room services that improve processes
and reduce work loads to a customer who is ripe for such improvements.
He doesn't find out what's happening to the customer's customers,
so that next time, his people can offer advice not only on equipment,
but on expanding the customer's services offerings as well. He
doesn't coach his people on their role in growing the business,
or give credit when they contribute to this growth. Opportunities
are lost and business that could have grown, withers.
And as a result, people in the organization, weary
of hearing only about what's not working and how dissatisfied
the customer is, either assume there is nothing they can do to
improve the situation and give up, or go look for work where there's
occasionally some good news. We lose business as well as our best
employees by ignoring relationship-building strategies of reward
Is this happening in your organization? Is a failure
to capture the data that tells you the current status of your
customer relationships costing you dollars, employees, and opportunities
daily? If so, here are three simple moves you can make:
Build success reporting into your systems. Ask people to
report successes before they report
issues. It'll change the attitude of the entire team, allowing
people to be much more
resourceful when they get to the hard issues.
Compile success stories and review them monthly. What are
the patterns? What do they
say about your organization's strengths and weaknesses? Where
are new strategic
opportunities emerging? What new offers should you consider making
to your customer?
Share success stories system-wide. Cross-fertilize your
organization with knowledge about
what makes the customer happy. Seed it with ideas about how to
build stronger relationships
and provide better service.!
Strong, trusting relationships among employees
and with clients are built out of thousands of interaction moments,
person by person, situation by situation. When we think we don't
have time for good news, or that it's "soft" to pay
attention to how our customer relationships are improving, we
deprive ourselves of critical knowledge. This knowledge allows
us to be strategic about a significant source of business advantage.
Is focusing on technology and short-term results
taking attention away from building relationships and creativity
in your organization? While it may take courage to swim against
the tide, a few simple moves can make a big difference in attitudes
and profitability. What successes can you find to recognize today?
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