|Source: USAF Civil Engineer Center|
Patrick Gorman recently published an interview with Susan Story, CEO Of American Water Works Company for ChiefExecutive.net. In that interview, Story describes what it means to be customer-focused. She explains that, "If you're customer-focused, the next step, is, there's no bad idea and pepole can push back." That's an interesting connection between customer focus and employee empowerment. Story argues that you can't say you are customer-focused if you haven't created a culture where the people responsible for interacting with the customer every day have the ability to speak up, challenge the existing ways of working, and offer new ideas. Story offers an example:
I’ll give you a great example of the change we’ve made in technology. Several years ago we had a new back office software system put in and the people on frontlines weren’t asked about it. It was very rigid and our employees on the frontlines hated it. And it actually slowed down their ability to deliver customer service.
So with our new chief technology and innovation officer, we got a group of 13 field service reps from all over the country to and said, “Tell us what you need.” And we had technologists in the room and they built what the frontline employees told them they needed and they did it quickly. They met in April by July 31st, they had a prototype, they’re out in the field using it, they got feedback, and by the end of the year, we deployed it to 1,800 field service reps around the United States.
And I think that one of the biggest changes that we’ve made is that we’re trying to let our frontline employees dictate how we do our business, because they’re the ones interacting with our customers every day.
In too many instances, I think senior executives ASSUME that they know what customers want. They jump to conclusions based on a few anecdotes, or they cling to beliefs about customers that may have been true in the past, but no longer hold. They also don't empower those closest to the customer to share what they know, and what they have experienced through their interactions with the customer. Some senior leaders spend a great deal of money hiring consultants to tell them what customers want, while never asking the people on the front lines of their own organizations about customer needs, wants, and pain points.