“How do you prioritize the needs of the customer versus business needs to develop a business strategy?”
Any regular reader of this blog knows that I am not a huge fan of companies who put their own needs above the needs of their customers. Back in Episode 37, I talked about companies having “inspired” visions versus “motivated” visions, with the former being driven by external needs and the latter being driven by internal needs. Realizing that every company has to maintain some level of balance between these two extremes, I am absolutely a believer that if you focus your attention on solving your customer’s problems, they will ultimately reward you in a way that will allow you to solve your own problems as well.
So, I suppose I can take the easy way out and say that is my answer. Prioritize your customer’s needs first, and the rest will follow. However, I’m afraid things just aren’t that simple.
You see, what I failed to mention in any of my previous rants on this subject is that companies do not always practice what they preach when it comes to putting their customer’s needs above their own. And it is this core issue that needs to be reconciled within the context of your company’s overall strategy.
As a consumer, the only thing I hate more than when companies clearly don’t care about me, is when companies clearly don’t care about me while telling me that they do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a call with some poor customer service rep who is apologizing profusely for not being able to help me, while clearly towing the company line of “tell them ‘no,’ but make sure you’re nice while doing it.” As if someone being polite is the only thing that should matter to me. No – fix my problem even if it costs your company a few more dollars to do so. That will show me that you really care about my needs. And, in return, I will continue doing business with your company, even if I have to pay a little more to do so.
Even as we speak, I am doing business with a company who just randomly decided to charge me double for a feature that was previously included as an integral part of the standard subscription I was already paying for. Clearly, they encouraged me to incorporate this feature into my normal workflow, and once it was firmly established, they knew they could turn around and charge me more. And not just a little more!
So, whose needs are they putting first? The feature does solve a problem that I have. True. But it doesn’t solve it any better than any other solution that’s available out there. The only reason I would stay with this company is because it’s a pain in the you know what to switch. So – yes – short-term, they probably have me. But do you think I will be looking for another solution as soon as possible? And do you think I will eventually take my temporary pain pill and make the switch to another company that truly cares about making my life easier? You bet.
But the most infuriating part of this entire story is that when I reach out to this company to tell them how I feel, they respond with some nonsense about how much they care about me. And that just makes me all the angrier because, obviously, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, what does all of this have to do with the question at hand? Simple – you prioritize the needs of your customers over the needs of your business by not only saying it – but by actually living it. If that is truly the mantra that your company wants to live by, then your strategy needs to reflect that sentiment – top to bottom and in every action that you take. And if that isn’t the right strategy for your business (as I suspect it won’t be for many), then at least be honest with your own self-assessment so that you won’t further frustrate your customers by outright lying to them.
The fact is, most companies will have a strategy that balances their own needs with the needs of their customers. What that balance is and which way the scale tips will be different for every company and for every strategy. And, no matter my preference, that’s by and large O.K. What’s not O.K. is when your company says one thing and does another. Your strategy is the perfect place to reconcile this sort of hypocrisy, and that, in a nutshell, is exactly what I would recommend that you do.
Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 064
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Bob Caporale is the founder of Strategy Generation Company, the author of Creative Strategy Generation and the host of the Dear Strategy podcast. You can learn more about his work by visiting bobcaporale.com.