Traditional business models place the CEO at the top of the company pyramid. He (or she) has to make decisions that get passed down to the rest of the company. And sitting at the bottom are the customer-facing staff, and worse, below them are the customers.
If you've ever played broken telephone you'll understand what a problem this is for the CEO. He doesn't know it, but his customer-facing staff really aren't getting the right message, and worse, the last recipients of that message are the customers.
Although the business model seems to work, it's based on a few fundamental misconceptions. Misconception #1 - The CEO is solely responsible for multimillion Rand decisions
If you look at the level of interactions that customer facing staff have on a daily basis, and their ability to affect whether customers are happy or not, each employees actions and decisions could potentially make a company millions of rands - or not. If customer facing staff are treated as low level employees, their freedom to interact with, and understand the customer will be hampered. The customer cannot see how internal strategies can benefit them, they only see what is in front of them, and it's important that what they are faced with is an intuitive and empowered employee. Misconception #2 - Customer facing staff are solely responsible for the customer's experience
Even though customer facing staff are responsible for the customer's experience, they aren't the only ones. After all, a customer may look at a website, as well as use a product or service of the business. If physical attributes of the company are out of sync with the customer, it's near impossible for customer facing staff to fix it - and unrealistic to expect them to. Customer facing staff have a lot of power when it comes to influencing the customer's perceptions; but customer centric products, services and company structure are an essential foundation that reinforces the overall experience. Misconception #3 - Products and services should be suited to the business
It is far easier to understand what the customer needs, and deliver it to them, than it is to convince them that they are getting what they want, when they aren't. Once again, customer facing staff cannot move mountains, but an entire organisation can manage a little intuitive research and customer prioritisation easily. If each decision is made with the customer in mind, end products and customer interactions will make a lot more sense. That means that whether you are in product development, management or any other position, you can contribute to the customer experience. Misconception #4 - Rigid guidelines and processes make for a better work force
While finite processes and systems do make for better business, the problem is the way that these are structured. If a process takes away an employee's freedom to make decisions, then it doesn't work. Similarly, if focus is placed solely on monetary targets, the customer becomes faceless and so do your employees. If you are too focused on these rigid targets, you may not be as sensitive to what your company and customers really need. Flexibility in the workplace is just as important as structure; it's the balancing of the two that makes for a successful and profitable company. Misconception #5 - The customer needs what the business is offering, so they will be loyal
The customer's need isn't as simple as one would like to believe. Often quality and need for products and services are based on perception rather than fact. While you may have a superior offering to your competitors, they may offer a different experience entirely. The experience that a customer has when interacting with a brand can often be the deciding factor in their loyalty and support of a brand. Remember, your product may be essential, but your competitors may offer something similar or the same. Customers are loyal to brands that act as an extension of themselves, allowing them more freedom to express themselves than they would otherwise have. Think Moleskin, Apple, and Starbucks; they all offer a quality product with the addition of a worthwhile experience and genuine value in the eyes of the customer.
So the challenge for every CEO doing business today is to overcome these misconceptions and to flip the traditional on its head. It may seem daunting to hand over all that responsibility, but the fact is that there is no real handing over. In the eyes of the customer, this upside down pyramid is their reality. They expect to be understood, to receive value for their money and to be treated like a person. We are all customers on a daily basis, and if we take our mind-set out of the office, it's what we expect too.
Simply put, the real challenge is for CEOs to put themselves, and their companies on the same page as the customer; and to address the customer's key role in the success of their business.
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