Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ~ Bill Gates

Every moment of everyday people are buying, selling, serving and living customer services. As we are all consumers – rich or poor – we will experience some form of customer service.

And it is how you – as both the consumer of the service and / or the provider of the service, act and represent both yourself, the experience you are giving and finally, the company that you work for, that makes the difference.

In the previous article [for other articles in the series, please go to my livejournal], I talked about “Outside In Appreciation”, in the guise of standing outside of yourself and noticing the service that takes place on the high street. In effect, the B2C – Business to Consumer type of service we are all used to as consumers of products and services – and noticing how that service is delivered.

To a B2B – Business to Business company, like the one I work in, it is not so easy to get a good understanding of the experience that your customers get in dealing with your organisation. You can use customer journey mapping; customer experience design workshops; and rarely, direct customer engagement sessions, etc. I’ll cover these in separate posts in the future.

Many companies use customer feedback systems, processes and tools to try to bring the customer voice back into the organisation, but for this article, I wanted to focus on two simple, but, very effective methods that I have used with senior, exec level teams that draws the customer into the heart of your business.

Bring the Customer Into the Organisation

Approach One: Bring in the customer to a formal customer event and try to present to them how well you are delivering the service? Spend ages collecting facts & figures? Polish the slide presentation? Practice the pitch and the key points? Get senior execs in for the day? Possibly prepare a tour or some other event?

Approach Two: Or, if the customer is so important to your business, why is he not part of it? Controversial I know, but when was the last time you invited a customer into your organisation? To your leadership or team meeting? For them to come in and honestly and openly talk about the service that you provide? The positives and negatives? The perceptions that they have? Do you sit there and actively listen to them? Not argue or challenge them? Do you reflect on the commentary and then seek to understand how you can make them a valued part of the service ecosystem you are attempting to create.

And in the end, which approach do you feel would work? I have seen approach one, too many times. Sat through presentation after presentation and seen the customers eyes glaze over, their posture telling you more about how disengaged they are than anything else.

My Approach: I actively advocate Approach Two and try to use this as often as possible. In fact, when I was the Total Customer Experience Director for a European division of an international business, this is what we did for two years.

We would have regional leadership meetings in different countries every month. This was done to reach out to all of the countries and attempt to build a more engaged team. What I did was ask each country general manager to invite one of the country’s most important customers to the leadership meeting taking place in their country. Not for a sales pitch, No. To the whole leadership meeting. They would listen to the latest financial statements, sales updates, marketing plans, operational updates and special interest presentations. We did not hide our organisation behind a slide set presentation. Obviously, the approach was different and controversial. We used the Chatham House Rule approach, that of:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), organisation or information, nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. (see Chatham House Rule)

We would then ask them to reflect on how we were operating, asking how customer focused we were. We would ask if they wanted to share how they were focusing on their customers, and then how we could support and help them.  Did it work you ask? Yes, it did. The customers felt as if they were a part of our organisation; in partnership with where we were going. We got to hear the good, the bad and the ugly of how we delivered service. And it forged better ties between teams and the customers and built long term relationships.

Start every meeting with the customer first

How do most groups of people when they get together in a team meeting, start the team meeting? Generally, with an update on the actions from the previous meeting. Then, it might be a financial update, followed, by operational updates, and if you are lucky, you end up talking employees at the end of the meeting. Is this the right order? Do you run or participate in meetings of this kind?

One of the methods I have used is to reorder the agenda as follows:

  1. Customer: Voice of the Customer Survey results and narratives. This puts the context of how the customer is feeling about the service we are delivering first.
  2. Employees: How engaged are the employees in the organisation. What key challenges are they facing? How do we enable them to do their jobs better. Perhaps even invite one or two front line staff to the meeting to get the realism of what they face.
  3. Operational Processes: How are we delivering services to our customers? If all of our SLAs are green and the customer feedback is poor, then obviously we are measuring the wrong things.
  4. Marketing: What key programmes and market events are being planned? Targeted customers? How will they feel, react?
  5. Sales: What customers are being targeted from a sales perspective? How can we take the feedback from other customers, into the sales events?
  6. Finally: the normal Financial results

How do you run your meetings? How does your leadership run theirs? Where in the “agenda” of the meeting is the customer? How do you reflect the customer in the meeting?

The next article is around – Questions you can ask your organisation on why do anything differently?

I leave you with the following quote………

Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. ~ Damon Richards


Martin Summerhayes is a leading authority on how to deliver exceptional customer services, by leveraging customer experience design and change management techniques. Martin has extensive experience in both product services and managed services, having started his career as an engineer with Data Logic and progressed through technical and senior global managerial roles in Hewlett Packard, then with the Metropolitan Police Service in London. He is currently a senior member of the Fujitsu Managed Services Business. Martin has worked across the full product and services lifecycle, including:– services strategy formulation and execution; new business incubation; B-2-B and B-2-C customer service delivery, customer loyalty definition and execution, business process re-engineering, business intelligence reporting, performance improvement and business change.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Service in Industry or its owners