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Getting the Balance Right

Customer-focus, as I define it, can’t be accomplished through QA measures alone. So what’s the right balance? How do we strike this balance between quality control and agile performance? What does it mean for a company to be truly customer-focused? As we both know, you and I are more demanding as customers than our parents; we have a greater array of options open to us; we expect value for money; and we take into consideration when purchasing beyond quality assurance.

Micah Soloman, author of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service,2 identifies six major trends transforming the way customers expect to be treated. First, we want instant gratification; which means we want the right information literally at our finger-tips from a smartphone. Second, there’s a noticeable shift to values-based buying. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, 87 per cent of United States consumers believe companies should value societal interests at least as much as their own business interests.3 Third, there’s an appreciable greening of the customer; younger customers, mainly, have concerns about the environmental impact of the products and services they consider purchasing and consuming. Fourth, as customers we look for timelessness: products and services that are authentic and long-lasting. Fifth, we want to be empowered in our purchasing decisions; we expect companies to respect us; to make it easy for us to contact them when we need to; and for the business to respond to our feedback promptly, thoroughly, and thoughtfully. Sixth, as customers we have a growing desire for self-service; fueled by our round-the-clock, tech savvy lifestyle; the desire for self-service choices, from online shopping to concierge-like touchscreen menus in public spaces. These six developing trends illustrate the need for product producers and service providers to be flexible and customer responsive as much as anything else.

To be performing with agility means that products and services and the way they are accessed, delivered, and packaged must be constantly under review. A company like Kelbggs, for example, is always developing new breakfast cereals. But the challenge for Kellogg’s is more than developing new brands; to be successful on an ongoing basis means the company needs to get their pricing right to cater for customers who have an ever-increasing array of brands and pricing to choose from. This requires creative ways of promoting their products, using a range of marketing channels such as competitions, product tasting, and distribution. QA is one of several other systems and practices that contribute to a successful and popular breakfast cereal.

If a company is captive to the process model of performance only, their goods and services will disappoint the customer eventually. Being customer-focused is more than producing consistent quality in goods and services. A customer-focused business is one where decisions about its products and services are made on the basis of a continual alignment with the wants and needs of the customer and the overall goals of the enterprise. As I said in Chap. 3, being customer-focused in essence involves everything said, done, and thought about by all organizational members having the customer in the forefront of their mind. This attitude is the starting point for agile performance.

Where the rubber meets the road ...

Thinking outside the box

Southwest's senior vice president for corporate communication, Ginger Hardage, told participates at a conference a story about a Southwest pilot:

"On September 11, 2001, after terrorists had brought the twin towers down, all planes that were already in the air were grounded. A Southwest plane was directed to land at an airport that Southwest did not serve, and the passengers and crew were put up in a hotel. When Southwest management called the hotel to enquire about the passengers and crew, they were told that no one was there—the pilot had taken everyone from that plane out to the movies."

"There's no manual from which to learn that," said Hardage. "At Southwest, employees are encouraged to make decisions from the heart, and in turn, these proactive gestures provide positive benefits to the customers and the company."

A recent survey showed that 76 per cent of Americans think that a company's treatment of its employees is a major factor in whether customers will purchase from that company. As Southwest makes its employees the top priority, Southwest is really making its customers come first, too.4

 
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