“Setting customer expectations at a level that is aligned with consistently deliverable levels of customer service requires that your whole staff, from product development to marketing, works in harmony with your brand image.” – Richard Branson
Aligning business with customers simply means that the whole company – every member of staff – know that serving customers is everyone’s job. A fragmented internal structure where each department functions in isolation will fail to deliver on the promise of high standards of customer service and product quality. Aligning business with customers translates to breaking down these barriers and isolated cells, to form one seamless entity, completely focused on the progress of the company by taking care of its customers.
Customer focused companies would have metrics and parameters in place that enable them to measure customer experiences. If the scores show that customers are satisfied at each touch-point, it would mean that there is alignment between all department processes and employees, enabling good customer experiences all across. Contrary results pointing to widespread customer dissatisfaction would mean that the company has not met the mark in aligning business with customers and could soon face serious losses in business through customer churn.
We know that a customer’s relationship with a company is a journey but in order to ensure that this journey is a pleasant one, a company must break it down into segments. This will make it easier for a company to manage the customer’s experiences and expectations at each stage and improve on any lapses. Customers now have a large number of choices and hence their expectations (some demands) have increased manifold. Aligning business with customers is therefore now a lot harder for companies but they must comply in order to attract and retain customers for the longest time. A company must focus on raising the level of satisfaction for customers, with every interaction and every offering and consistently get feedback from customers on its performance. Aligning business with customers means that the company’s actual performance should match with the expectations that a customer has of it.
As discussed previously, customer service must be part of the overall strategy of the company and be treated as a profit centre rather than an expense one. Each customer facing department must be primarily aligned to meeting the needs and expectations of the customers and also be strategically aligned to the rest of the company such that every channel and department does it part in ensuring that the customer only receives the best service and every promise made by the company is delivered. When a company focuses on providing the best experiences to its customers, they would remain aware of any gaps and internal misalignment preventing memorable and seamless customer experiences. As a company increases its expertise in providing enhanced levels of customer service, its reputation enhances and it will find it simpler to attract not just customers but also the best talent, investors, vendors and suppliers and other stakeholders, who would contribute further to its success. In the current competitive scenario, this would be an extremely advantageous position that could spur the profits of a company.
It would be crucial for a company to ensure that its frontline sales and marketing staff do not over promise and overstate the capabilities of the company. Aligning business with customers would become very tough since the company would not be able to deliver on the promises made, which would turn the wheels of the vicious cycle – customer churn, losses, lowered capability to meet customer expectations, dissatisfied staff and all the other dreadful portions of the cycle. When a company sets realistic expectations from the start of the relationship, it is simpler to build on the capabilities internally. Aligning business with customers is about managing expectations of the customers while meeting the goals of the company for the long term. In addition, without achieving this alignment there would be too many negative experiences to combat and anyone running a business would know that it requires at least 12 positive ones to make the customer forget a single poor experience. That is tough!
Every company has a business model that will help it achieve its goals. However, without aligning business with customers, smoothly and cohesively achieving these goals would be impossible since the purpose of any business is to serve its customers. No customers – means no business. Each person in the organization must understand that the company exists because of the revenue earned from its customers and hence if these ‘wage payers’ were not there, no one would have a job. Keeping the customers happy and satisfied therefore is the responsibility of each person in the company, using the processes, technology and policies within the company.
Each employee – senior leadership included – must undergo proper training and coaching to understand the effect on customers when even one portion of the customer experience process breaks down. When all work together collaboratively, a company would be able to provide consistently good customer experiences, which in turn would mean more business, more customers, higher profits and lowered costs over time and consistently. As mentioned, with so many options before customers, they are slow in becoming loyal but quick to lose trust and if they do lose trust, it takes years and concerted effort on the part of the company to get it back. Sometimes a company loses a customer for good.
If a company gains expertise in consistently aligning business with customers, they would be able to change the perception of customers about their business and their brand. It is a mistake to believe that flashy advertisements, large-scale promotional activities and other marketing campaigns will retain customers – it may attract people but in order for them to ‘convert’ to customers, a company must be able to provide that ‘extra’. The fact is that these activities are good only to convey a message from the company – they do not deliver value or make up the delivery of a promise, which is what is paramount for customers. Aligning business with customers means that companies are able to follow up those flashy promises with actual behaviours and service. It would still take time, but ultimately customers will learn to trust them and be willing to reward the company generously and in many ways.
Aligning business with customers also means that a company is able to convincingly convey to its customers what the business stands for, its beliefs and values and essentially translate them to action. The company’s service and products must embody the most distinctive and stand out characteristics of the company. Only when a company can convey confidence and belief in its own vision, will it be able to convince the customers to believe in its offerings and long-term capability of meeting their needs. Companies that are successful in aligning business with customers would gain favour with them, while others would continue to struggle and ultimately face closure.
Aligning business with customers is also about getting a firm grasp on how a company fares against its competitors. A company must be able to answer questions like – ‘what is its USP as compared to competition?’, ‘what does it do better and worse than its competitors?’, ‘why would customers choose them over others?’ and other such questions, which the customers too would need answers for. The fact that aligning business with customers is not just about the logo or tagline of a company – it is about executing the brand promise and building indefatigable trust of the customer thereby cementing its success.