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How to be More Responsive to Customers

I read a nice article by Brad Power on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network entitled Three Ways to Make your IT More Nimble.  Brad's focus is on how large companies can leverage IT to facilitate business process changes.  The goal is to be more responsive to customer needs and market opportunities.

Being more responsive to customer needs is a common theme these days.  This includes the rollout of new products and services, as well as the handling of customer service issues.  Nowadays, customers who feel ignored or neglected often turn to social media channels to vent their frustrations to a global audience.

A case in point is Dave Carroll.  Dave had his guitar broken by United Airlines during a trip in 2008.  Frustrated by the response from the airline, he launched a YouTube video that has been viewed over 11 million times.

So how can you get the various departments in your company to be more responsive to customer needs?

The first step is awareness.  Many leaders stay focused on internal operations, leaving little time for understanding customer problems and frustrations.  CIO Magazine reports that only 9% of CIOs spend time studying market trends and customer needs.

In order to be more responsive to customer needs, leaders need to step outside the walls of the organization and experience their company through the eyes and ears of their customers.  How hard is to get through to customer support?  Can you find the most commonly downloaded form on your web site?  Why do you need to download, print, fill out, and fax back a form in the first place?

Small improvements to your product or service may seem critically important when that’s all you know about.  When you walk a mile in your customers’ shoes, however, you’re likely to see new opportunities that have the potential for much greater returns.

There’s a great quote in Brad’s article from Anu George, chief quality officer at Morningstar:

Technology is integral to our business.  Our operations, quality, and technology teams work very closely with each other to drive process improvements that enhance the overall customer experience.

This is a great illustration of a best practice:  collaborate across departments to focus improvements on the customer experience.

So next time you think about improving the responsiveness of your organization, don’t focus exclusively on internal improvements.  Make sure you have an up-to-date understanding of your customer and the experience they receive from your company.