Your company’s most valuable asset doesn’t even show up on your financial statements. That asset is your customers. If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. You can outsource manufacturing capabilities, fill in gaps in management and even beg or borrow for products and services to sell, but there are no substitutes for customers.
Social media and digital tools have enabled deep and real-time connections between companies and their raving fans, as well as their disgruntled current and former customers. This has given customers and fans a lot of power in voicing their opinions, but it doesn’t mean that it has fully transformed customers into stakeholders for businesses.
Businesses of all sizes would be well served giving their customers a seat at the table with a C-suite or similar high-level executive that liaises with customers on an ongoing basis and represents their interests in all company planning and decisions.
Ironically though, when you look at the C-suite of virtually every company, from mom-and-pop businesses to billion-dollar multinationals, there is rarely a person truly focused on representing the customer.
There is typically a CEO focused on overall strategy and vision. There is a chief operating officer focused on operations. There may even be a chief marketing officer, but that person is focused on selling the company’s vision and products to the customer, not really being an internal advocate for the customer.
Sure, you may have a customer-service department, but its focus is likely handling complaints when something goes wrong, not advocating the customers’ wants and needs up front to impact your company’s strategy. It seems crazy, but most executives aren’t focusing their attention on their company’s most important asset.
We first took this customer-liaison approach with one of our clients, a collectible’s manufacturer, 10 years ago. We put in a team that spends its time interfacing with customers, including reading feedback posted online and sent directly to the company. The team studies customers' social postings and analyze purchases and other data. Then, one person from that group acts as their representative -- the chief customer advocate.
When decisions are made on anything from design to edition sizes to marketing and more, the customer liaison puts him or herself in the shoes of the customers, to represent what the customer wants and will think of the decisions being made.
Certainly, not everything the customer wants is realistic, but by having this position and making it known, customers know that they have a voice at this company’s table. This has created incredible engagement with my aforementioned client. It has an email open rate four times higher than the industry average and has grown by double digits each year over a 10-year period, in a niche market, since this philosophy has been adopted.
If you want to put in place a chief customer officer, advocate or liaison, start by ensuring that the person who gets the job is entirely focused on the customer. Have that person be known to customers, so that they are aware of who is on their side and can contact that person via social media. Also ensure that person is experienced in media as well, to help supplement public interactions.
Have your customer advocate talk with customers both online and off, particularly your most important customers, and carry their perspective back to the company to be assimilated into your overall business strategy.
Make sure that the customer advocate is connected with every part of your organization: the CEO on strategy, the marketing and branding staff, customer service and even product development. This person is the face of the company when interfacing with customers (or prospective customers) and the voice of the customers when interfacing with the company.
Even if you are currently a one-person business, you will still want to make sure to wear this hat and reflect the importance of the customer in planning your overall business strategy.
Enabling a strategy such as this is critical to your success. Customers are placing an increasingly high value on companies that demonstrate that they care about customers and are listening to their wants and needs. Customer acquisition costs are very high, so the deeper the relationship you can establish with your current customers, the better off your company will be. If you don’t focus on your customers, you can bet that one of your competitors will.
Put to rest the old-school organizational philosophy that is product driven, finance driven, manufacturing driven, marketing driven or even ego driven. Stand out from your competitors and maximize your growth and profits by making your company customer driven.