How could a company with the capital and resources of Google have miscalculated the demand for Google Glass? Why would a conglomerate the size of Blockbuster not recognize that online movie rentals and sales were quickly outpacing the demand for DVD’s?
The answer is the inability or lack of desire to change.
I’m not referring to the ability to introduce change, but specifically the ability to predict, respond and adapt to changes being thrust upon the business. Consider the three most fundamental areas of business that influence the profitability and viability of any business.
Their preferences, needs and demands are changing. Specifically, how they seek out products and services, as well as how they buy those same products and services are changing. If you’re not selling online for example, then you are likely faced with getting in line in order to attract new customers and maintain those who remain.
Global markets are shifting. As much as it dates me, the Internet in particular has made the world a much smaller marketplace. It’s not unusual to source and purchase goods in another continent, and have them delivered to your doorstep the very next day; a near impossibility only a decade ago.
Where to begin… With Baby Boomers continuing a mass exodus of the North American job market and a steady increase of Millenials joining the workforce, the Millenials are set to be the dominant generation in today’s workforce within the next five years… Sorry Generation X, you are to ever remain the minority.
But what does this mean if on a day-to-day basis one is seeking to operate a business and sustain, if not grow, profits and market share? When I recently posed this question with a group of CEO’s, their responses suggested that the answer to growing a business today requires a multi-faceted approach, with considerations that are much broader in scope than in the past.
For example, ask how to grow a business of someone in marketing or sales and they are likely to tell you that online marketing and social media are the most critical tools for attracting new customers in today’s online market place.
On the other hand, ask this same question of someone who is versed in managing social capital and they are likely to tell you that changing the structure of businesses today, from the archaic management hierarchy right down to hours of work, is going to be necessary if you are to attract and retain the best employees—who will in turn figure out the other challenges for you.
Lastly, pose this question to a trusted advisor such as a CFO and you are likely to find they will recommend that growth and profitability results from closely managing costs while strategically planning the right merger or acquisition at the right time.
All valid responses, all with differing perspectives for the same outcomes, so should we pursue all three?
There is but one common theme that every CEO I have spoken with agrees upon. Survival of any business in the future is going to rely heavily on a closer connection with the customer. As markets, demands, and preferences shift, it is no longer a seller’s market (just ask the banks who once were only open about six hours a day, five days a week).
When presented with this common view I asked the group what specifically they were doing to create a closer connection with their customer and in turn they shared the following three steps.
- Shift away from a functional mentality.
The lines between marketing, selling, and technology are blurred, and are likely to continue to be so. Many of the CEOs I spoke with shared that they are bringing more technically savvy players into sales in order to understand ways to connect with customers, both existing and potential, online.
These same lines are becoming blurred between operations and customer service, as the two functions serve the customer more effectively if they report into the same structure. This shift moves away from finger pointing and towards a customer-focused operation.
- Build offerings that deliver value.
Customer desires today will become customer demands tomorrow. As customers increasingly desire customization and the ability to design solutions that fit their unique needs, understanding what it is that customers desire both today and tomorrow provides the intelligence necessary to design products and services that will continue to attract their attention and cash.
- Tune into customer feedback.
Have you ever used a survey? Moreover, have you ever wondered who actually answers a survey? In my experience there are only two types of people who answer surveys:
+ Those who are so dissatisfied with the product or service and they want to tell someone.
+ Those who are ecstatic about the product or service and want to ensure someone knows about it.
In today’s technologically driven world, customers are accustomed to providing their feedback instantly, good or bad, and social media has provided the channel to do so. You no longer have to seek out feedback; you only need to listen.
Companies like American Airlines, Westin Hotels, and various other recognizable brands monitor and respond to customer feedback through social media channels through the day, sharing feedback that is positive, and quickly responding to feedback that is not so positive. One poor customer experience can quickly spread and tarnish a brand or reputation within hours, and remain intact for years following. For example, United Airlines damaged musician Dave Carroll’s guitar. The experience for Dave was so frustrating that he wrote a song about it and published a music video on YouTube, which has nearly 15 million views as of this writing.
Monitoring customer interactions and various social channels is the best way to obtain customer feedback. Don’t send surveys; connect with customers, listening and responding to their feedback and you will receive all of the intelligence you need to build a stronger more profitable company.
Simply put, the rules to growing and sustaining a profitable company have changed, and continue to do so. By employing ideas like those shared by the CEOs above, a business is one step closer to surviving in a buyer’s market.
Shawn Casemore is the President and Founder of Casemore and Co Inc., a management consultancy helping business executives and owners build a business their customers value. For more information you can visit Shawn’s website at www.casemoreandco.com or follow him on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.