It’s far too easy for senior executives to be seduced by numbers, graphs, charts, red-amber-green ratings, and generally let their eyes glaze over when they hear the word, customers. Especially if you’re sitting in a conference room up on the 25th floor customers look quite small from way up in the rarefied air of the corporosphere!

I’m always fascinated by how companies try to get beyond the numbers on the page. This feels pretty important to me people who forget that their customers are, well… people too, with feelings and emotions, just like them, then find it all too easy to perpetuate the language of ‘target markets’, produce PowerPoint presentations with arrows and bulls-eye in them and talk about capturing share of wallet, and ponder, in all seriousness, questions like, who owns the customer? [Newsflash: I’m not sure anybody owns me, least of all a company I just happen to have chosen to do business with].

So, here then are 6 great examples of how organizations seek to remind their folk that customers are people too:

  • Amazon is famous for having an empty chair in executive meetings that represents the customer. Throughout the meeting, executives are reminded to include the customer in their decision-making processes, and to ask, what would we do if the customer were sitting in this chair, here and now?
  • The software provider Adobe won a Forrester Award in 2011 for its customer immersion program (see short film http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilQqRJKOfSA) which is all about getting executives to stop thinking like boardroom automatons, and step into the customers’ shoes for a day, and build empathy.
  • For another example of a more interactive experience, a few years ago, CIGNA (US Healthcare) developed an Experience Room in the HQ for their people to walk through and live the customer experience. Some 80% in total went through it. It set out the ‘before and after’ for how the experience is and how it should be. It was imaginatively done, so for example, there was a scary ‘wall of paper’ that was, as intended, overwhelming and that made the point well; imagine if it was you receiving all this paperwork, and at a vulnerable moment in your life, how would you feel? This is a powerful mechanism to force the company to think ‘horizontal end to end experience’ and not ‘vertical functional silos’.
  • USAA are renowned for making their staff wear their customers’ shoes (clearly, recruiting from the armed forces helps too). As they say, “we require all of our staff to live the lives of our customers – only then can they understand their unique needs.” So, for example, induction involves eating army rations and wearing helmets and Kevlar flak jackets. USAA calls this living customers’ lives in ‘surround sound’. If you think this is too gimmicky for you, then consider the story I heard of the lady who joined USAA many years ago during the Vietnam War – her first job was to ring up troops stationed overseas for the war. Having got the ‘job’ part of the call out of the way, she was told to stay on the line for as long as needed and simply talk to the soldiers. For many, she was a lifeline back to the ‘normal’ world, back in the US.
  • Office Depot, a US business-supplies chain, has a “planogram lab”, a prototype store, where it brings in customers to co-create and test new ideas. As the Economist reported, it “also uses the old trick of forcing senior managers to play the role of customers”.
  • Deere and company (tractors, US) invites farmers who are buying tractors to visit the factory with their families. This is a chance to cement the relationship, but also for factory line workers to meet their customers, and maybe better understand the role their products play in their customers’ lives.

CustomersFirst Now (CFN) has been refining our CX solutions for more than 40 years – working with and for many Fortune 100 companies. We provide the only proven, predictive process that links Customer Delight to financial performance by incorporating and measuring CX Best Practices across all key business disciplines. For more information contact Kerri K Nelson, CEO & President, at knelson@customersfirstnow.com

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