It’s often the simplest things that make all the difference.

This article by Gary Hamel describes the seemingly incredible effects of allowing local and front-line employees to make decisions on how best to serve the customers with whom they interacted every day, rather than listening to a standard coming from the central corporate office, which had the effect of not quite serving any customer particularly well.

It has a very powerful story which illustrates three important points:

One: It’s an excellent lesson in experimentation, focusing on what the customer really needs and wants and, what I think was Professor Hamel’s point, how to run a better business by changing the way you treat your people.

Two:It reinforces the fact that your brand is not what you define it to be, but rather it exists in the mind of those who know you and are your customers. In this case, looking at the definition of “reliability” from the perspective of the customer completely changed the practices that helped support the reputation.

Here’s what intrigued me:

Three: It’s the second underlying theme in the story that makes it so compelling: The changes, the innovation, the tremendous increase in customer service and profitability all happened because someone (according to this, a few people at a time) made the decision to give up centralized control and trust employees to use their judgement and do what is best for the business on their own volition – and most importantly to use their own intelligence and motivation to improve the business at every opportunity.

This was a shift for this particular company, and might well be for yours, in the relationship between the company (and its management) and its employees.

What would happen if we made the same shift in our relationship with the people in our market (customers and everyone else)?

What might happen if we stopped telling our market what to think about our companies and how they should relate to us?

As marketers, we are trained to do market research, find market positions with large opportunity, and spend time, money and resources making sure everyone think of us what we want them to.

One side effect of this is that we may not serve any of our customers particularly well (to reference a common example, I’d prefer a car that is safe, forward-thinking and “hot” but brand-reputation at least, I get to pick one).

This story is one from which we can learn.

Please read it.

Then think about what you are doing that is stopping your people from having the freedom to build a new customer relationship.And what you need to do to make that job easier for them. (can you provide templates to print opening hours instead of dictating them?)

Then go one step further: how can you enable your customers to build the relationship they want with you and get the service from you that suits them best?

I am fairly certain that even simple steps will dramatically improve your customer relationships and put you miles ahead of your competition in your relationship with the rest of the market.

Take a step now.

Discuss it here. I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and how it worked.

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