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Keep Customer Focus First and Maintain Integrity

By Dr. Harold S. Resnick

     I seldom meet a leader who doesn’t speak eloquently about his company’s commitment to customer focus and service. Yet, poor customer service often appears to be the norm, with plenty of personal stories to go around. Many companies can’t even describe how they intend to deliver excellent customer focus, but most do have procedures to address customer issues – in other words, to correct poor service after the fact.

     Customer focus is not magic. It comes from implementing just a few practices carefully and consistently: First, build your business model around what your customer wants, not what is most convenient for your business. Second, set customer expectations carefully and then meet or exceed them. Third, communicate frequently, candidly and honestly. Fourth, remember that quality is built in through good work processes and keen attention to details. Finally, treat customers with integrity. Make firm commitments and honor them. If you are unable to meet a commitment, be sure the customer is informed immediately.

     Some companies have built an organization and culture that is legendary in its customer focus and its ability to deliver extraordinary customer service. Ritz-Carlton is such an example. But you don’t have to be a large or famous company to deliver truly distinctive customer focus.

     Many local companies have gotten customer focus right, and describing one certainly does not preclude others. At the same time, specific examples help us understand how customer focus is achieved. The following is an example of a company that has designed itself around its customers.

     Building a new home can be a daunting experience for many homeowners.  This is especially true for a custom home or one built with many design changes. It is a huge commitment of time and resources, and can feel like a venture into the unknown. Many veterans of the experience say they would never want to do it again.

     Yet there are many positive stories of builders who create very pleasant experiences, using business models that can be applied in other industries as well.

     Benchmark Homes is a fine example of a customer-focused organization. It builds custom homes in the greater Jacksonville area. What is unusual about the company is that it has virtually 100 percent customer satisfaction. Benchmark customers all seem to have the same story to tell: love their home, talk about how it was completed earlier than promised with virtually no punch list, and would build another home with Benchmark in an instant. How does it and other companies like it do it?

     The follow the five principles identified above. First, they build their business model around the customer rather than their internal needs. For example, many builders want their customers to make all their house selections at the beginning of the project – easier to order, schedule, etc. But the customer is often not ready to make all those decisions right away. Customer-focused companies build the process around the customer, deferring selection decisions until they are needed “just in time” to keep construction moving.

     Second, expectation are set very carefully. Both the schedule and the budget are developed in detail, shared with the customer, and agreed upon by both parties. Then the project is managed to that schedule and budget, thereby also managing customer expectations.

     Third, communications are frequent and open. Status meetings are held internally and with customers. Projections are shared. Issues or problems are also shared. A partnership is built with the customer as the project moves forward.

     Fourth, these companies pay attention to quality and details. The customer is not outside the process, he is part of it, so that everyone contributes to the quality of the final product.

     These four ingredients together – performed with the fifth principle of openness and honesty – create the integrity for which outstanding companies have come to be known.

     All organizations – large and small, simple and complex, public and private – can achieve extraordinary customer focus by translating these five principles into the day-to-day operation of their business.

Dr. Harold S. Resnick is a Jacksonville-based organizational development consultant, and author of Sustainable Breakthrough ResultsThis article originally appeared in the Jacksonville Business Journal and is used with the permission of the author.

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