4 keys to focusing on customers in a complex world

4 keys to focusng on customers n a complex world

As waves of data, complexty, and regulaton crash over the current envronment, t’s easy for overwhelmed busness leaders to lose sght of ther most mportant objecte.

Customers and clents need to be the center of focus for organzatons and CPA frms, even amd the other challenges and opportuntes posed by dgtzaton and complexty.

“You n wrte on bts of paper as much as you want, ‘The customer s our kng.’ The challenge s how you take the organzaton wth you and make t happen,” Hamsh Taylor, who spoke Sunday at the ACPA fall Councl meetng, sad durng a pre-Councl ntervew.

Taylor, a consultant who served as CEO of Englsh Channel tunnel ralway Eurostar and then as CEO of Sansbury’s Bank, has developed a four-step to help organzatons become more customer-centrc and clent-centrc.

The conssts of meetng four challenges:

Ultmately, the challenges revolve around fulfllng the customer promse that Taylor dscusses as the second step n the process. Succeedng depends on a commtment to look at thngs n new ways and a wllngness to do thngs dfferently.

“To really become customer-centrc, t’s an enormous change,” Taylor sad. “t’s culture and atttude, and also products and servce and how you engage wth customers.”

After takng over Sansbury’s Bank, whose branches are loted n grocery stores, Taylor worked to understand the shoppers who were current or potental customers. Sansbury’s learned that shoppers were n a bg hurry to get ther groceres and get home.

Although the lotons of Sansbury’s branches ge the bank excellent access to customers (beuse everybody needs groceres), these customers have lttle patence for sales ptches or complted product explanatons. Provdng products and at the branches that were smple and easly explaned helped the bank ts results, accordng to Taylor.

“That was the key to the turnaround at Sansbury’s Bank,” he sad.

At one tme, Eurostar executes thought they needed to convnce lesure travelers that ther tran servce was a better way to get from London to Pars or Brussels than takng a plane or a r. So ther advertsng focused on explanng why they were preferable to ther compettors.

After speakng wth customers, though, they learned that they needed to focus nstead on convncng people that travelng to these lotons was a gr way to spend ther tme and ncome. They needed to sell people on the magc of travelng to these places.

“Where you really want to be today s nsde the customer’s head, beuse that’s where they make decsons,” Taylor sad. “And understandng what’s gong on n the customer’s mnd s actually the crtl factor n really understandng the customer.”

Taylor sad surveys and data n help organzatons do ths, but he also advotes strongly for smply observng customers. He sad a U.K.-based optcan once commtted to smply observng how customers react and are tred when they enter a store.

He sad valuable nsghts n be gleaned from smply watchng customers n acton n ths way. nsghts of front-lne, customer-facng employees also n mportant deas f there s a method for eslatng ther comments up to management.

For example, when Taylor was at Brtsh Arways, two front-lne employees at John F. Kennedy nternatonal Arport n New York Cty suggested that travelers on overnght flghts would prefer havng ther meals at an arport lounge before brdng the plane, so that they could sleep unnterrupted durng ther flghts.

“That’s where you get the best nsghts, beuse they are seeng t day to day,” Taylor sad.

A customer promse n also be lled a value proposton or a brand proposton. No matter what t’s lled, t’s a smple declarate statement of the beneft you ntend to deler to the customer that ges the organzaton or frm a keen focus.

t ges you a ruthlessly smple tool for managng the rest of the busness,” Taylor sad. “f you have a smple statement lke that, what you’re tellng your staff s, ‘That’s why we’re here. That’s what we’re tryng to do for clents.’ By dong that, you open t for everybody to start contrbutng.”

Accountng frms sometmes struggle to descrbe themselves n ths way, Taylor sad. A frm’s webste may descrbe the partners’ lst of credentals and ther expertse n the they wthout explanng what value they wll brng to ther clents.

Taylor sad organzatons that succeed n ths area are good at buldng everythng they do around a smple customer beneft statement. Volvo s just one of many r companes, but ts commtment s to passenger safety. That’s made abundantly clear n both ts product development and ts advertsng, and therefore the brand appeals to customers for whom safety s a prorty.

n today’s arena, customers’ experence and even ther ngs often are hghlghted n the customer promse. Apple has succeeded by makng ts computers and gadgets easy to use and easy to purchase n ts shops. Dsney s an conc company beuse t cres magl experences n ts theme parks and ts flms.

magne that beng your job descrpton,” Taylor sad. “Wouldn’t that be gr? Your job s to cre magl surprses. That would look good on your busness rd.”

Sometmes, the best answer for servng your customers n come from a completely dfferent ndustry or professon.

When Brtsh Arways was desgnng ts queues n London’s Hhrow Arport, t consulted wth Dsney, whch s a master of accommodatng crowds watng n lne at ts theme parks. When placng beds n luxury jets, the arlne turned to a yacht desgner for ts expertse n crng comfort n cramped spaces.

“Don’t you’re alone n ths,” Taylor sad. “Lots of people are facng ths n other ndustres, and guess what, they’ve got really good deas as well.”

Delerng a promse of trust s a core tenet of many accountng frms, whch often promote ther status as trusted advsers and as guardans of the publc nterest. To help deler on that promse, Taylor suggested that accountants examne the behavor of other professonals who emphasze trust.

Physcans, for example, are hghly trusted. One of the reasons they are trusted s beuse they lsten to ther patents. They don’t just wrte a prescrpton the moment a patent walks n the door. nstead, doctors lsten to a descrpton of the symptoms and complete a physl examnaton before prescrbng a course of acton.

Accountants n learn from that, as well as from what cres publc trust n plots or even n the dea that ther r wll start each mornng. Branstormng deas from other stuatons related to trust n help accountants come up wth eght or 10 prncples for how they wll follow through on ther customer promse of trust — f that’s the promse they have gen.

“Whatever your problem s, whatever your customer promse s, there’s someone else out there that’s dong t,” Taylor sad. “t doesn’t have to be other busnesses. t n be anywhere.”

Crng a customer promse and delerng on t may requre sgnfnt change n how an organzaton operates.

People n the organzaton mght resst that change at frst. Taylor sad people often are wllng to accept ncremental dfferences, but they may fear changes that turn ther workng world upsde down.

f you really want nnovaton, you’ve got to shake people out of that,” he sad. “You’ve got to set the ambton for a way forward n such a way that f they look at t, they thnk, ‘Blmey, that’s exctng, but t’s gong to requre some addtonal ways of workng to get there.’ “

Taylor encourages leaders to consder whether ther busness s organzed for ther convenence or for the customer’s. f customers regularly have to deal wth multple dfferent departments, the organzaton may need to change thngs to deler on ts customer promse.

nternally, those changes mght be unpopular at frst, but t’s mportant to emphasze the mportance of puttng the customer frst. t benefts no one, employees ncluded, to keep a system that frustrates and angers customers by, for example, makng them transfer to sx dfferent departments to get the answer to a smple queston. Customers want better servce, and companes need to nspre and help employees to make the changes needed to meet customer demand. 

t’s not enough to get people to beleve n the new way of dong thngs or the message you’re gng them,” Taylor sad. “Helpng them to take the frst steps s just as mportant. f you’re askng people to do somethng new or behave n a dfferent way, you have to help them over the threshold to take the frst steps.”

Ken Tysac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) s the JofA‘s edtoral drector.