Besides ruthless prioritization (see “Strategy is About Saying ‘No'”) and being sure you have a well-articulated goal that ties to your financials (see “Budget +10% Isn’t a Strategy”), strategy requires a crystal clear understanding and alignment around serving your customers. These are the people who pay your salary. Aligning the entire organization’s efforts around providing outstanding products and services to these customers is key, yet often absent.
Why? There’s lack of clarity and conflicting goals that often get in the way of alignment. Sure it’s easy for the front-line associate to understand customer service and wants/needs. These are your store personnel, service providers, sales teams, and anyone else who directly interacts with your end customer (be it an individual or a business). Usually there’s pretty good alignment within these ranks on the importance of serving customers well. The problem more frequently occurs in the “support” functions. That’s where it gets a little more difficult to align an organization with customer service but it can be done. The big question is “how?”
There’s a great phrase I’ve had used on me and subsequently used in other settings. I was working in a “support” function where I was responsible for some of our organization’s back-end technology and infrastructure. The organization was focused on metrics that made sense at face – budget, project completion status, up-time, etc. Unfortunately, when requests came in from the “front line” they were seen as obstacles to achieving some of the metrics the group was evaluated on. How could we possibly make budget when the front line was asking for additional capabilities and resources? Then I heard it – “If you’re not serving a customer, you best be serving someone who is.” It was a clarifying moment.
The role of the organization wasn’t to hit budget anymore. It’s goal was now to provide the best service we could to the front line organization that was, in turn, providing the best service it could to our customers. Suddenly, work that was at cross-purposes with our previous goals became much more important and easy to justify. Sure we were going to go over budget but we could explain and justify it as being in the interests of the front line who then were more than willing to sign up for additional revenue and profit goals because of the new capabilities we were providing.
I started using this phrase with other support teams (especially ones who supported my team like vendors or corporate functions). Any time there was grumbling about a request we made, we played the customer card. We demonstrated the importance of those support groups supporting us so we could support the front line (after typing “support” so many times I feel like I have to attend a support group for “support” abusers). It is very hard to argue with serving a customer (be they internal or external). Everyone understands revenue makes the world go around and without the customers, there’s no revenue which means no salaries which means no support groups.
Try using this phrase and mindset in your organization. “If you’re not serving a customer, you best be serving someone who is.” It’s clarifying. It eliminates work that doesn’t drive impact with customers. It galvanizes resources and aligns teams all the way through the organization on what should be your primary strategic purpose in life – serving your customers better than anyone else can. Because remember, if you’re not serving your customer, there are plenty of other organizations out there that would be happy to do so.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC