The Importance of Iteration in B2B Customer Centricity

GUEST BLOG FROM PETER WHITELAW, AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS CONSULTANT AND CO-AUTHOR OF CUSTOMER AT THE HEART
 

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

If you conduct a customer survey only once, you capture a single ‘snapshot’ in time. That snapshot will usually give you valuable information including customer concerns that deserve remedial actions.

BUT you:

1. Will never know if those remedial actions actually resolved the customer’s concerns (unless you ask)
2. Won’t know what’s trending – are customers more loyal or less loyal? Are more of them actively considering defecting to your competitors?
3. Might never improve your customer relationships

Customer centricity requires continual contact with the customer. Hence the importance of iteration. Wash, rinse, repeat.
 

Customer Centricity and Agile

There are many similarities between an iterative approach in customer centricity surveys and the Agile project management methodology.

“Agile is an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer headaches. Instead of betting everything on a ‘big bang’ launch, an agile team delivers work in small, but consumable, increments.” (Atlassian 2020)

The Importance of Iteration

The Agile Manifesto, developed in 2001, includes these key principles:

• Focus on people over process
• Embed customers and their feedback in order to continuously improve
• Deconstruct work into small segments and organize effort into short chunks (typically called sprints) in order to get quick feedback and make nimble (agile!) course corrections
• Dedicate people to teams and focus on one project at a time
• Experiment and learn continuously
• Ensure transparency of the work and continuity of the team

(Derived from a Forbes article of 6th October 2019)
 

The Importance of Iteration in Customer Centricity

Iteration means adopting a cyclical approach to seeking customer feedback. You need to repeating at least once every year. And remember that first principle I mentioned. Focus on people over process. Get the buy-in from the account teams as they have to own the customer programme. If they don’t, it will be seen as ‘just another Head Office initiative’ and will fail.

Plan Assess Action Action
 

Benefits of Iteration in Customer Centricity

• Identifies trends and locates intransigent problems (that the customer perceives)
• Enables account managers to interact with customers in a non-selling mode, building trust
• Is seen to be consistently seeking customer feedback with the objective of continuous improvement
 

Consequences of Not Iterating in Customer Centricity

• Customers perceive that you no longer care about their opinions and that their past participation was a waste of time
• Your organisation imperceptibly drifts away from its strategy of achieving customer centricity
• Staff may feel they are no longer accountable for the quality of customer relationships
 
 

Peter Whitelaw is an Australian consultant providing customer relationship assessments, customer centricity guidance and change management services. He has a background in engineering, sales and general management with Hewlett Packard, Tektronix and Optus Communications. For 11 years he was CEO of project and change management training and consulting company Rational Management, training thousands of managers across the world. In recent years he has been lead consultant on several change management and customer centricity projects for both commercial and government organisations.
 
 

Interview with René Versluis

Photo: Sanne Donders
 

Interview with René Versluis, NPS Expert

 

KPN is a leading telecommunications and IT provider and market leader here in the Netherlands. As well as supporting several million consumers, KPN also supports corporate customers in the areas of infrastructure, workplace management, the cloud, security, data networks and data centres.

Our CEO John O’Connor recently caught up with René Versluis, who has been responsible for running the Net Promoter Score (NPS) programme at KPN’s corporate division for several years. René is a genuine expert in running a customer feedback programme in a large corporate business to business (B2B) environment.

I hope you enjoy this short interview with René Versluis.

Pim Braat
Deep-Insight Regional Manager, Benelux

_________________________

 

René Versluis and NPS

John: René can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your involvement with Net Promotor Scores (NPS)?
René: Sure, John. I have worked with KPN for more than 15 years and I have had a series of commercial and sales roles during that time. In recent years, I have been a programme director for some of KPN’s strategic projects including responsibility for setting up and running its Net Promoter Score (NPS) programme for corporate clients. The trigger for KPN creating that role and asking me to take ownership was the fact that KPN values its corporate clients and is interested in their feedback in the fast developing world.
 

The Importance of Good Governance and Follow-Up

John: What were the first things you did when you took on this new role?
René: Leadership is important so my very first step was to create an NPS board which included many of the senior leaders in the company. We met initially every single week. This was an important step in setting the right governance for the programme.
John: Would you say that the NPS programme was successful?
René: Yes, I would say we had a lot of success with the NPS programme. We got feedback from customers but more important, we took action. If a client score needed to be improved, we implemented a Client Improvement Plan. We also insisted on closed loop feedback with each client. That means that within four weeks of a survey taking place, the account director created this Client Improvement Plan and discussed, agreed and shared that plan with the client.
 

Lessons Learned

John: What lessons did you learn from running the programme? Or to put the question a different way, what advice would you give to yourself if you were to start all over again?
René: I don’t think I would have changed anything fundamentally. I have mentioned the importance of leadership. The other thing that is important is setting realistic targets. You can’t change the culture of an organisation if you set targets that are not achievable.
John: How did the NPS Board change the culture in the organisation to make it more customer-centric?
René: One of the techniques that we used when people came to us with a proposition was to ask them: “What is the effect of that on the NPS score?” If you keep asking that question, eventually people recognise that any proposal or any investment needs to be made with the customer in mind. If it’s not and people can’t articulate a clear benefit for the customer, then it’s a wasted investment. I would also say that you need to work very closely with key clients – you can’t assume that you have the right answer. You must make sure the client thinks it’s the right answer.
 

The Future

John: You’ve recently left KPN after more than 15 years. What do you plan to do now?
René: I’m not ready to retire just yet! I think I have learned enough from my time at KPN to help other companies thinking about embarking on their customer experience of NPS programmes. Net Promoter is a great tool but it needs to be applied correctly in B2B environments.
John: The very best of luck, René, and thanks again for sharing those insights with us.
 

The ‘Secret Ingredient’ to Creating a Customer-Centric Organisation

GUEST BLOG FROM PETER WHITELAW, AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS CONSULTANT AND CO-AUTHOR OF “Customer at the Heart”

 

What is the secret ingredient for creating a customer-centric organisation?

Since John O’Connor and I embarked upon writing the book Customer at the Heart more than a year ago, I have had the opportunity to meet many people interested in customer centricity. I have also delivered several presentations to small and large business groups on the topic. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but people often asked me the above question. It indicates that people are curious and keen to embark upon the journey towards customer centricity.
 
 

Customer At The Heart
 
 

My simple answer: Passionate Leadership is the secret ingredient.

All of the senior executives we interviewed for Customer at the Heart demonstrate this trait. We selected them for this reason – to share their passion. However, over many years of assisting organisations to change and become more customer-centric, I have encountered a spectrum of leaders. I’ll tell a couple of stories, but first I need to explain why Passionate Leadership for customers is so important.

The first premise is that leaders are ultimately accountable for the performance of the organisations. The second is that without happy customers, the organisation won’t exist for very long. The logic is simple. Leaders and their organisations don’t survive unless their customers are happy.
 

Business Barriers

Unfortunately, a lot of ‘stuff’ can get in the way of that simple equation. Organisations are continuously evolving and changing as the environment changes. This constant movement creates uncertainty and to counter this we develop rules, policies procedures, role descriptions and other bureaucratic tools to maintain control. Much of this inhibits creativity, innovation and sensitivity to the needs of customers.
 

Culture

Then there’s ‘culture’, commonly described as ‘the way we do things around here’. Much of the current culture is derived from the history of the organisation. The people on board the longest see it as a safe haven and permeate it through to newer members of the team. You can really see the entrenched cultures when you merge two organisations. The problem with entrenched culture is that it’s intransigent. We know people resist change because it’s scary – even when it’s bleeding obvious that we have to change to succeed.
 

Passionate Leadership

Passionate leaders know all this. They’ve usually been there before and they see that their real role is to make change happen. That means challenging the status quo and being prepared to break a few things and rebuild them. They start with the equation ‘happy customers = business performance’ and begin to influence their people into putting customers’ needs into every decision. Alongside that, they challenge their people to question why they do the things they do, unless they ultimately assist the customer. Passionate leaders are risk takers.
 

How to make it happen?

How do leaders do it? They talk constantly about customers and to customers. They visit customers and they ask and they listen. They seek regular information on the quality of customer relationships.

Next, they act on what they learn. They know they can’t change culture overnight, but they can put in train a series of initiatives – all intended to respond to customers’ needs.

By taking this stance and embarking on the journey towards customer centricity, they begin to influence their people. Some will enthusiastically join in, some will remain passive and some will be obstinate resisters. Gradually the culture will shift – even if it means shedding some of the resisters.

Passionate leaders reinforce the momentum by celebrating successes. Their people become collaborators and contributors to change and they grow into their new identities.
 

Case Studies

Last year I met with a passionate leader who has been working assiduously with his leadership team and his people on a 5-year transformation to not only adapt the business to a world of disruptive competition, but also to change the internal culture. He’s been doing this ‘brick-by-brick’ so that the company is now clearly differentiated from competitors because of its superior customer service and depth of relationships.

A couple of years ago I endeavoured to assist an organisation in a very competitive industry where profit margins are thin. Their CEO gave lip service to customer centricity to the extent of branding the business as ‘customer-focused’ while doing little else. The corporate priority was to automate as much of the front-line services as possible, and to shed staff. When I interviewed some of its key customers it was obvious that there was a growing problem. One comment I recall was: “next they’ll be offshoring their customer service”. That CEO has since moved on.

I recently met with a relatively new leadership team who are commencing their customer centricity journey. They have many challenges ahead – a legacy of broken promises, little in-depth insight into their customers, staff who are keen but nervous about the future. However, the new CEO will succeed because he has boundless enthusiasm for customer centricity and he has a leadership team who share his vision and the passion. Their first step is to reach out to customers and listen.
 

The Secret Ingredient

Passionate Leadership is the secret ingredient to building a customer-centric organisation. It’s not the only ingredient. Customer centricity also requires innovation, commitment, time and persistence. It’s also obvious that it will not succeed unless that secret ingredient – ‘passionate leadership’ – is fully activated.
 
 

Peter Whitelaw is an Australian consultant providing customer relationship assessments, customer centricity guidance and change management services. Peter has a background in engineering, sales and general management with Hewlett Packard, Tektronix and Optus Communications. For 11 years he was CEO of project and change management training and consulting company Rational Management, training thousands of managers across the world. In recent years he has been lead consultant on several change management and customer centricity projects for both commercial and government organisations.