Have you noticed how almost all companies now claim to be customer-focused? It’s become pretty standard for firms to state how their operations centre around their customers and that the focus is on targeted solutions. But how many are truly customer-focused right across the workforce, or even fully understand what’s involved in becoming so? In fact, do you know if your business is product-, sales- or customer-oriented?
Some organisations place emphasis on their product. Often, in businesses which create cutting-edge technology, the view is that the product may be sufficiently superior as to provide the firm with a competitive advantage. This product leadership strategy may indeed bring about success, but only whilst that product delivers obvious value over others. However, in a world where technology is advancing at a rate never experienced before, and at a pace which will undoubtedly increase over time, this strategy may be short-term within certain markets and therefore, success will be limited. Another view is that a business may adopt an operational excellence strategy to create that product more efficiently, and in doing so undercut the opposition and establish greater profit margins. Both strategies are product-oriented.
Figure 1: product orientation
Other organisations place emphasis on creating sales. This strategy involves a team engaging in aggressive selling with the single aim of market penetration. This approach requires a sales advocate to attempt to convince the potential buyer that the product they are offering is relevant, needed and worth paying the price to obtain. Whilst this strategy may achieve results in the short term, it is ultimately flawed in that it will rarely establish long-term relationships with a customer.
Figure 2: sales orientation
Smart companies understand that the customer should be at the heart of their business. The business that sets its sights on providing customers with what they need is the business that sets itself on a path to becoming truly customer-oriented. By gaining deeper customer understanding, tailoring a solution to meet their requirements and delivering an appropriate, reliable product, an organisation can expect those customers to bring about a number of beneficial attributes, including:
- More satisfied customers
- Improved brand loyalty
- More likelihood of recommendation
- Greater profitability
Figure 3: customer, or market orientation
The first step in this process is to improve the businesses absorptive capability, see figure 4 below. This involves front-line staff becoming the eyes and ears of the company, sensing the customer's needs and changing trends. It is essential that these individuals are motivated, engaged and on-board with their task, as it is them who will spearhead the day-to-day feedback process. However, management must control and optimise this process, ensuring appropriate systems and measures are in place in order to distil valuable insights from customer feedback. The C-suite must lead by example, championing the customer cause and acting as role models for customer-centric behaviour to all stakeholders.
Figure 4: absorptive capability:
Of course, the business must adapt its offering accordingly too. The product must be shaped in line with the customer’s wants and needs, and done so better than the efforts of the competition. If customers choose to purchase the product of a competitor as it offers greater value, the customer-focus process, or the business as a whole is operationally failing. But if the businesses absorptive capability is improved to the point where information flows freely between provider and customer, and the product is developed sufficiently well enough to create no doubt in the mind of the purchaser that this is the right product for them, the end result is true customer orientation for that business.
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