Thursday, April 8, 2010

Creating Customer-Centric Organizations: Where Servicing Customers is Everyone's Job!

The other day, I gave a presentation to an association's board of directors and one of the statements I made was "membership is everyone's job, including the board" (implying that it's not only the job of those who work in membership departments). Upon hearing this, the Board Chair perked up, leading to an energetic and meaningful conversation with and among the leadership. Afterward the chairman came up and said THANKS for bringing up this important topic. Since then I have experienced similar "perking up" in other meetings with leaderships of various organizations.

I have been serving associations for nearly 2 decades and I started to reflect on a more deeper level as too what's causing this gap and what are some potential solutions that will lead to membership being viewed as everyone's job. And to me this topic became even more important for I observe similar challenges within the for-profit sector also.

The more I reflected on this, the more it occurred to me that the answers lie in how we respond to the often asked question "What do you do".

Whenever this question comes up, I have noticed that nearly every individual responds from their own role's perspective, their position within the organization. Actually, this was a realization and learning for me also.

For example, the Executive Director will introduce themselves as the ED of...exhibit person will respond as the exhibit person...and so on. However, when, specially when, we are attending business functions, in most cases we are not being asked to respond in-terms of our own functional role but rather as a representative of the entire organization for whom we work and therefore the more appropriate response would be from the broader perspective of what the organization does, for at that time, to the other person, we are the organization.

Thus, in the question "what do you do", the you being referred to is not the singular you but rather you being the entire organization, group for whom you work and represent. When this realization occurs, the self-view as well as the resulting response naturally shifts.

So what causes this in the first place, and more importantly what are some potential solutions? To understand the cause, it'll help to view 3-concentric circles. In the center of the circle we note the reason the organization exists--it's reason for existence (Purpose-WHY we exist). The second circle represents the organization's functional departments, it's internal structure (HOW we do what we do). And the 3rd circle represents, which is often closely and directly related to the 2nd circle, our products and services (WHAT we produce). For example, conference departments produces conferences and publications outputs publications.

Moving forward, currently when we place individuals within our organizations, we place them into various functional roles and soon each person begins to look outwards through their own lens, through their own role, and in the day to day fire fighting that often takes place, looses sight of the fact that they are just a spoke in the wheel. They forget that all spokes are interconnected, all are important, and all connected to the same cog, and that everyone is moving together towards a common destination.

So what are some potential solutions?

1. I believe it's be helpful for each person to view and understand the organization from say a 10,000 foot view, understanding each of their own roles within the broader system, see how they are interconnected, and are part of the wheel--part of the system but not the system itself. In other words, world doesn't revolve around any one of us but rather that we are part of a larger system, that we're all interconnected and we all exist together to fulfill a central purpose.

2. Instead of looking outwards-away from the circle, we need to view inwards, towards the center of the circle, realizing that it is the customers who are at the center--at the heart of the organization--the cog that keeps the spokes together and around which the entire wheel revolves. For without the cog, the wheel falls apart.

3. On a more tactical level, I believe it will be helpful to start with developing and arming each and every person with an elevator speech, that is consistently used by everyone within the organization. So when they are asked, what do you do, they can more effectively respond from the place of representing the entire organization rather then from the individuals role perspective.

While establishing such an understanding may take some time and effort, it is this type of understanding once infused will contribute to starting the shift the mindset, the thoughts and natural outcomes are likely to be more the case where customer service begins to be viewed as everyone's job, and not just that of customer service departments alone.

What are your experiences and suggestions that can help to establish stronger customer-centric organizations?

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