There are two keys to differentiating yourself from competitors. First is to know in your bones that putting the Customer first is the right thing to do. The second key is to ask this ONE question every time you make a decision at the company:
How will this affect the Customers?
It’s so simple you would think everyone does this. The fact is, they don’t. Many companies aren’t convinced putting the Customer first is the right thing to do. With many clients we consult, a senior manager asks for a business case showing numbers to justify having more of a Customer focus before they go down that track. It’s safe to assume a company wanting this isn’t asking questions about what the Customers thinks about their latest operational changes.
Ricoh Canada, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ricoh Americas Corporation, is an organization differentiating themselves from the competition by putting the Customer at the heart of everything they do. Headquartered in Toronto, the company employs about 2,200 people across Canada. It is a regular part of their business decisions to ask the question, “How does this affect the Customers?” However, that wasn’t always the case.
A little over ten years ago, the company recognized that their results were not where they felt they should be. Mary Ann Sayers, Director of Corporate Sustainability and Community Relations, described a situation where the Customers were not the first consideration and the Canadian operations were being out-performed by a number of other Ricoh operating companies. It was time to figure out how to turn things around.
They started a cross-functional team called “My Customer.” The participants trained on how to be a leader, to make decisions, and to delegate and manage time better. Once this program began, the team felt more comfortable making decisions for their business with consideration of how it can help the Customer. It was the beginning of their Customer-centric culture.
Over time, this culture reached all parts of the organization. Glenn Laverty, President and CEO, described how every part of the organization, from service and sales to Human Resources and accounts payable, felt connected to the Customers. It didn’t matter whether your job involved the Customer directly; every single member of the organization asked the question, “How will doing this that way affect the Customer?”
Ricoh believed in a continual commitment to pushing the Customer-centric agenda. In every meeting, every time a decision was reached, they asked, “How is this going to impact the Customers?” The senior management team would ask those questions in their meeting and would revel in how simply putting that question out there changed the direction of their actions. They learned by asking that question, their group would develop a different answer, strategy, or program that considered the Customer in a better way. They believed that you couldn’t be mindful enough because if they weren’t mindful of the Customer, they knew it would come back to haunt them later.
The sad thing is there are too many companies that don’t even ask the question. If you are one of the companies that are, however, you kind of hope that is the case – especially if it’s your competitors that aren’t asking!
The good news is that, as is the case with a number of our clients, the journey that Ricoh went got them where they are today. And organizations and the people that work there do have to go on the journey. It’s not something that you can turn on overnight. It does take a period of time to understand what it means, change the culture, and help your people realize what it means to put the Customer at the center of everything you do.
Ricoh did a great job. They have consistently raised their Net Promoter score and held it there. Despite two recessions and a shrinking emphasis on copier use, they continue to experience year over year growth.
This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Colin Shaw – View the original post