Stop Looking At Your Navel!

May 11, 2007
Five ways the customer experience can improve your business.

The engineer running Biometric Performance definitely had it all together and the company's burgeoning success was testimony to his leadership. He was brilliant, creative, well-versed in Lean, financially astute, personable with customers and had attracted a talented executive staff. Yet BP, like most companies, was engaged in the corporate equivalent of picking lint from their navel, and this inward focus was blinding them to extraordinary opportunities.

Virtually every B2B company from Fortune 50 to Small Town 5,000, particularly those dedicated to implementing Lean programs, suffers from the same self-centeredness -- even those who say meeting customer needs is a top priority. Fortunately for BP, they switched their sights to improving the Customer Experience, and doubled their profit while achieving improved performance across virtually every department after only six months.

If improving the Customer Experience sounds like a Marketing nuance, consider that this approach opened up a $100 million market for Kodak, transformed one of International Paper's divisions from a money-loser to a profit leader and saved a major auto-parts producer over $120 million in six weeks, just to cite a few examples.

Thinking of the Customer Experience as a Marketing issue is a sure sign you are as inwardly focused as BP was. Viewed correctly, it's your ticket to improving every aspect of your company, from how you configure your plants to how you sell your products. Here are five places in your company where properly aligning to the customer experience will dramatically improve performance:

What is the customer experience? It extends from the decision to purchase your product through the completion of whatever process incorporates it. There are two key points to understanding and using the customer experience:

1. The customer experience is not about your product. It is about whatever the customer is trying to achieve, for which your product is usually only part of the picture.

2. The customer experience includes the behaviors, thoughts and emotions at each step in the process.

Sales Calls -- Customers buy your product because they feel (yes, feel) that it will help them achieve a desired result. They want a rotor which spins perfectly on its axle, not a 1/4" hole and definitely not your drill bit. When a large printer manufacturer converted sales calls from "speeds and feeds" to a demonstration of easier prescription dispensing (the result) they captured the pharmacy market.

Manufacturing -- Aligning manufacturing to the customer experience sometimes means abandoning the quest for maximum productivity and six-sigma quality. For instance, a commercial hardware manufacturer's customers said minimum defects was a top-priority when choosing vendors. But after looking at the entire customer experience, the manufacturer increased design flexibility with a modest decrease in quality and grew both sales and profit.

Human Resources -- Hiring practices, coaching opportunities and compensation structures can all be aligned to the customer experience. For instance, an auto-parts manufacturer who gave all departments the same overarching success metric-Customer Experience Index- immediately enjoyed better cross-functional cooperation and significantly reduced downtime during "handoffs" from one department to another.

R&D -- Some of the most dramatic opportunities to increase profits occur when R&D personnel are exposed to the Customer Experience. When key scientists at a Fortune 50 chemical company were shown a presentation on a day in the life of a potential customer they immediately identified ten, solid new-product opportunities worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Finance -- The number crunchers in the corner can fuel growth by broadening their analysis of success metrics beyond the P&L. Non-financial factors which play a critical role in customers' purchase decisions should be quantified and analyzed with as much rigor as pricing and cost of goods. Companies who have used the Customer Experience Index as a success metric have found they can more easily pin down the causal factors for increases and decreases in sales and profits.

The five areas above are only the tip of the iceberg. Turning your focus to the Customer Experience can be an avenue for improvement in Marketing, IT, Customer Service, Legal, Administration and other core functions in your company.

Biometrics Performance achieved as much growth as they could handle by digging deeply into the customer experience then addressing just a few of the areas mentioned above. Like so many other companies, they found unexpected pools of money simply focusing outward and efficiently helping customers achieve better results. That beats navel lint any day.

David Fields is managing director of Ascendant Consulting, LLC, a consulting firm dedicated to accelerating companies' top-line growth. Download a free whitepaper on Experiential Selling at Ascendant Consulting helps manufacturers grow faster by improving how they make, market and sell their products. Learn more at and calling 1-888-822-7236.

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