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By Mark Buckle, ABP Conference Speaker 2013

Put The Customer First -01-01-01


Welcome to the New World

The events of 2008-09 have left a permanent impression on the global economy and everyone working in it. From a world of the unimpeded pursuit of growth and profitability in the commercial sector and ongoing investment in the quality of services in the public sector, life has become far more uncertain- and organisational strategy has had to become far more short-term.  The drive for efficiency improvements has held sway and often been used as a veil with which to reduce quality and quantity of most things. In this volatile and unpredictable environment, the notion of longer-term planning horizons and more sustainable growth feels almost irrelevant when ‘quick wins’ are the order of the day.

Is there another way? Is there any prospect of organisations at least attempting to adopt a more balanced view of success – and more importantly of sustainable value – which it in turn might help us all to turn our back on short-termism? And where might the inspiration for this new perspective come from?

Customer First, Customer Throughout

Based on recent experiences, my belief is that an opportunity now exists for progressive organisations to develop a ‘culture of effectiveness’ that is capable of competing with – or indeed trumping the cult of efficiency. Effectiveness First requires organisations to pose a set of slightly modified questions about leadership, strategy and ‘people.’  Not, ‘how am I leading?’, but what am I leading for? Not ‘will our strategy meet our objectives?’, but how are we creating sustainable value?  Not ‘how do we engage our staff to do better?’, but what do we need to do to establish an engaged workforce?

In short: how can we re-focus the organisation in order to better understand and respond to the ever-changing needs and expectations of the world outside, specifically the expectations of customers, however these might be defined. In my opinion, fully aligning the organisation around the needs and expectations of ‘the customer’ is a full time job, far too important to be left to Customer Services. But here’s the rub: when it comes to ‘leading for the customer’, everyone is a leader: everyone in the organisation has a positive role to play in delivering value to the customer.

Customer Leadership

In the customer-aligned world, organisations need to start re-framing big questions around purpose and how success might need to be viewed differently, along the lines of:

  • Why are we and how are we effectively leading for the customer?
  • What are the expectations of our customers and how do we know if our services meet these expectations?
  • How can we ensure our vision , values and behaviours are aligned with our customers? and…
  • How do we acknowledge everyone’s positive role in the delivery of’ customer value?’

Working within the NHS in the past 2-3 years, we have examined the benefits of Customer Leadership from both practical, frontline and management perspectives. We have undertaken work in hospital ward environments that has helped to eliminate MRSA by focusing on the expectations of the public and transforming patient experience accordingly. Moreover, staff morale and co-operation was perceived to be 100% better, sickness and absence levels were halved over an assessment period of 6 months, customer complaints fell by 75% and employee attraction and retention significantly improved.

Creating an Engaged Workforce

Much has been written in the past 3-4 years about employee engagement. Too often ‘engagement’ is positioned as an activity – something to be ‘done’ to members of staff, whether via a rousing speech or an internal newsletter. Our contention is by focusing the whole organisation on doing a better job for our customer, measuring its impact as a leadership-led agenda and embedding this the via the notion of customer-focused behaviours, moves engagement thinking on from ‘yet another initiative’ to ‘the way we do business round here.’

About the Author

Mark Buckle -01Mark Buckle is a director of JOURNEY, a specialist consultancy that provides expertise to commercial and public sector organisations on customer-driven change management, providing a fresh new perspective on organisational effectiveness. Mark has gained extensive experience in change management, working with organisations as diverse as the NHS and News International.

If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to hear more about putting the customer first, Mark will be speaking at the 2013 Annual ABP Conference on Friday 4th October, Wokefield Park, Reading.

To find out more about the conference and Mark’s session click here for more information

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