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.
1. Will never know if those remedial actions actually resolved the customer’s concerns 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)
• 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
The Importance of Iteration in Customer Centricity
Iteration means adopting a cyclical approach to seeking customer feedback. You need to repeat regularly. At least once every year. And remember that first principle I mentioned. Focus on people over process. Get 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.
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 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.
U P D A T E : I originally wrote “Who is Kim and where is she based?” in February 2020 just after Atos restructured itself into market-facing units. In June 2022, Atos announced that it was looking into an even more fundamental restructuring of the business. If the plan gets approval, a brand new company called Evidian will be spun out of Atos.
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Becoming more Customer-Centric
Don’t be confused by the title. This is actually a personal blog post about global organisational structures and why companies sometimes change them to serve the customer better. It’s about becoming more customer-centric. Honestly!
What triggered me to write this blog was today’s announcement of a new global organisation structure for Atos, a client of ours and a true leader in the IT and digital world. Atos is also a great case study in how leaders change their organisation to become more customer-centric.
Today, the new CEO of Atos Elie Girard announced a major global restructuring of its operations. You need to read between the lines to figure out how dramatic this change actually is. No longer will counties the UK, France, Germany and other countries be responsible for their own P&Ls. These will now be run by six global industry heads. The axis of power will shift and the shift is seismic.
Paris, 19 February 2020
Moving the Group to an Industry approach
As of 2020, the Group initiates a transformation, called “SPRING”, aiming at reshaping its portfolio of offerings, reinforcing its go-to-market approach, and setting-up an Industry led organisation. In this context, six Industries are created:
– Financial Services & Insurance
– Public Sector & Defense
– Telecom, Media & Technology
– Resources & Services
– Healthcare & Life Sciences
At the same time, the Company gathers Global Business Units into 5 Regional Business Units (RBU), each of them under a single leadership:
– North America
– Central Europe: former Germany, and Central & Eastern Europe excluding Italy
– Northern Europe: former United Kingdom & Ireland, and Benelux & The Nordics
– Southern Europe: former France, Iberia, and Italy
– Growing Markets: former Asia-Pacific, South America, and Middle East & Africa
It all sounds a bit complicated: GBUs, RBUs, Industries and so on. And yet Atos is moving to this new organisation structure in order to become more customer-centric. Here’s why.
Atos’ customers are typically large international organisations. To serve them better, Atos needs to move to a more global organisation structure, with deeper industry skills that can be deployed across international boundaries for the benefit of those clients. If your clients are global, you need to be global. This change is absolutely the right thing for Atos to do. That said, there will be challenges along the way. I’m only saying this because of personal experiences in a previous life.
Becoming more customer-centric requires four elements to be in place: Leadership, Strategy, Execution and Culture.
Atos has shown leadership and determination in making such a significant restructuring of its business. That leadership has driven a new strategy for delivering more effectively to global clients. Profit & Loss will no longer reside in each country. It will reside in an Industry or Global Business Unit (GBU). Now Atos is in the Execution phase. This is where the new organisational structure must work for both clients and employees. If Atos gets this right – and I’m sure it will – the culture of the new company will be changed utterly. And that’s good for Atos’ clients. The trick in the Execution phase is to involve both customers and employees in transformation. In other words, don’t just think of Execution in terms of ‘hard’ activities such as processes, technology, targets and KPIs. The human side of the equation is arguably more important. We call this Investing in the “Soft Side”.
A Personal Experience
More than 20 years ago I used to work in Andersen Consulting (since rebranded as Accenture) at a point when it was moving from a country-based organisation structure to a global GBU structure just like Atos is now doing. It was a painful experience for a number of reasons but – no different to Atos – it was absolutely the right thing to do. Accenture’s clients were large global organisations and that required Accenture to become a truly global organisation as well.
More than 100,000 Atos staff are now going through the very same restructuring process as I did all those years ago. For most, the impact will be small; for many it will have a significant impact on their lives and careers. As for Atos itself, the impact will be transformational.
So here’s a small personal perspective on what it’s like to be a small cog in a large wheel going through a global organisation restructure. In the late 1990s I was working with Accenture in Dublin, having transferred from its London office a few years earlier. My boss in Dublin was a guy called Mark Ryan. We both worked in the Irish Financial Services practice – our clients were the local banks and insurance companies. When the new organisational structure was announced, Mark called me in to his office. He said: “John, you’re no longer working for me. We’re now part of a European group within Financial Services. Your new boss is Kim Zimmer.”
Who the Hell is Kim and Where is She Based?
I don’t remember my exact response but it was probably something like “Who the hell is Kim and where is she based?” Mark laughed. At the time, I didn’t really see what was so funny.
After a while, Mark stopped laughing and said “Kim’s actually a guy. And he’s based in Oslo.”
As it turned out that Kim Zimmer was a wonderful man. Kim and his fellow partners had built a great business for Accenture in Norway based on long-standing relationships with senior leaders in the local banking and insurance community. For me, it was a great opportunity to work in a more European role (and spend more time on a plane). The European aspect of the work was great but the time spent in airports and hotels eventually got to me. A few years later I resigned from Accenture after a wonderful 13 years in what was always a very international company. I ended up in Deep-Insight where I’m still travelling but on a more manageable basis.
I was going to name this blog “Who Do I Need to Buy Drinks For?” One of the most important aspects for anybody in a large multinational company is knowing who to talk to in order to help you develop your own career. Mentoring is important in any large organisation and organisational changes disrupt the linkages that people build up over time. It’s something that senior managers need to bear in mind when they suddenly find themselves with a brand new team of people reporting into them. Being customer-centric also means being employee-centric.
Similarly, for staff, it’s important to get facetime with new bosses. You don’t need to ply them with alcohol but it is important to engineer the opportunity to spend time with them to understand what their motivations are and how you fit into their plans.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s a story about Leadership, first and foremost. But it’s also a story about Strategy, Execution and Culture – the key themes in a new book about how B2B leaders build customer-centric organisations.
Shay Walsh is the Managing Director of BT Ireland and was our guest speaker at a recent breakfast seminar at the Irish Management Institute. His topic was ‘Customer at the Heart’ and Shay told the story of how BT transformed itself into one of Ireland’s leading customer-centric companies. It wasn’t an overnight transformation but BT was lucky enough to have a series of MDs, all of whom shared the passion for putting the customer at the heart.
BT’s Irish operations are purely business-to-business (B2B) unlike its British Telecom parent which sells to both consumers and businesses.
Back in 2008, BT Ireland knew that it had poor or deteriorating relationships with some corporate and government customers but didn’t have an accurate assessment of the quality of these relationships. Chris Clark is the first leader in Shay’s story. He was the MD who first engaged Deep-Insight to find out.
The initial customer feedback was poor. Very poor. BT was in the ‘Danger Zone’ but Chris Clark now had a baseline from which to start rebuilding the business.
Shay Walsh was part of Chris’ leadership team and ran the Irish wholesale business. Chris and Shay had no easy fixes – there was no silver bullet. Just a lot of poor processes, unhappy customers and a leadership team determined to get to the bottom of the issues and do the right thing for their customers.
FROM BAD TO GOOD
Chris, Shay and the rest of the BT leadership team all believed passionately that the journey to financial success had to be built around a clear focus on the customer. They set about fixing what was broken and repairing the damaged client relationships. When Chris got promoted within BT, Graham Sutherland took over as MD. Progress was slow at first but Shay and other members of Graham’s leadership team finally got to grips with the underlying problems. One by one, they fixed them. They called the overall transformation programme ‘Customer First’. By 2011, BT had not only exited the ‘Danger Zone’ but had managed to get into the ‘Performing Zone’.
BUILDING AN EXECUTION CAPABILITY
Colm O’Neill accelerated BT’s ‘Customer First’ programme when he became MD of BT Ireland in 2011. He appointed a Customer Experience director called Mairead McSweeney who drove the programme with ruthless precision. Mairead initially assessed how customers felt about BT every six months before moving to an annual cycle. She put governance rules in place to ensure that the right individuals in the right clients were contacted. She made sure that the ‘Customer First’ programme could not be ‘gamed’.
Shay Walsh was now MD of Business Sales and he and the entire organisation (not just the sales team) were incentivised on the quality of the relationships they had with BT Ireland. Sales teams had targets set either at an individual level or at a team level. The senior leadership team had an overall BT Ireland target to hit for Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ) before incentives were paid out.
FROM GOOD TO GREAT
Shay, Colm and Mairead now embarked on the second half of the BT customer journey – going from Good to Great. A different set of skills and capabilities was required because you can’t fix your way to greatness. Now it was down to the sales and service teams, working together, to identify where they could bring added value to clients. Then they made sure that the BT organisation could deliver on those promised value-adding improvements. In 2014, BT reached the ‘Unique Zone” – essentially the top 10% of Deep-Insight’s database.
THE ENEMY: COMPLACENCY
When you’re on top, the only way is down. The enemy is complacency. What was refreshing about Shay’s talk was his honesty about the fact that not everything is perfect in BT. They still get things wrong some of the time. The majority of customers may be extremely happy but Shay and his team are not resting on their laurels.
Shay Walsh became MD of BT Ireland in 2015. Since then, he has been pushing an agenda of continuous improvement in the company. There is no room for complacency in Shay’s organisation as the pressure in the telecommunications industry for better, cheaper services is relentless.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
Absolutely, says Shay Walsh. BT Ireland is still in the ‘Unique Zone’ but more importantly, the company is in a profitable and extremely stable position. Shay’s final slide sums up the BT Ireland story and the benefits of putting the customer at the heart:
Long-lasting relationships with clients
Increasing revenues from those relationships
80% of next year’s target revenues already contracted
Extremely happy customers – 57% are Ambassador clients for Shay and his team
This is a summary of the BT Ireland story. To hear Shay Walsh tell the story in full, listen to the full podcast on the Irish Management Institute website.
If you want to find out more about the BT Ireland story or how to put the customer at the heart of your company, contact us today or click on the link below to read about how business leaders in BT and several other organisations have transformed their companies to become truly customer-centric:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.