März 04 , 2015

Is your business stuck in a bubble?


This week I was reading a thought-provoking article from the leading Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. In the article columnist Maaret Kallio was reminding us about the many bubbles we live in.

We meet the same people, visit the same places, eat the same food. Quite easily our lives tend to settle on regular orbits and the awareness of the world around us narrows. We start to live in a bubble. We start to think all lives resemble ours and that we’ve found the ultimate truth and happiness.


It’s quite logical for us to act that way since living in a bubble is nice and easy. Nothing is disturbing our hermetic reality inside where all is just the way we want it to be and remains that way – until the bubble bursts.


Eventually all bubbles burst. Some do so quite easily whereas others are more resilient against the outside forces. In order to avoid serious damage by a violent burst, Kallio suggests that it might be a good idea to constantly and intentionally aim to break out from our bubbles and actively seek to increase our awareness of other realities, the ones outside the bubble. These other realities exist even if we close our eyes and refuse to see them. And there we might be doing a big mistake.


Is there a bubble inside your corporate walls?


Sounds like a wise advice for our lives and even more so for our life at work. As easily as we slide inside a bubble in our personal lives, the same can happen in our workplace as well. There are many ways for this to happen but one of the most detrimental ones is to shut down the connections between your customers and yourself. The scary thing is that it can happen so insidiously and easily!


There are a lot of forces within every company that steer you to concentrate on things within the corporate walls instead of being concerned on what’s happening outside. You talk about YOUR strategy. You have YOUR targets. You need to follow YOUR processes and procedures. You prepare YOUR reports. Coordinating all this requires you to participate plenty of internal meetings to follow up on the implementation and align activities. It so easily happens that in the midst of all this hustle and bustle you actually miss the customer knocking on your door and wondering why no one’s responding. The bubble is full of life, just the wrong kind of it.


Always start from customer experience and sacrifice it last


How to break out from this particular bubble? My suggestion is to make the customer experience your guiding star. I think every management system has one primary driving principle and that it should be about your customers. Not profits, not sales, but customer experience. You should then balance that with other dimensions but that would be the one you would let go last in case you need to prioritise.


There are many ways to implement this and in practice you need to build the whole system with this driving principle in mind. Here are some hints for you to start looking from the right places:


  1. You need to have a strong, customer-centric KPI, like the net promoter score (NPS) or similar, where the whole organisation can focus and that is giving you regular feedback on how you’re doing.
  2. You need to have a closed-loop system from measuring the customer experience leading to actions to improve it, back to measuring and so on. This needs to be an everyday practice for your whole organisation.
  3. You need to equip your organisation with the tools and skills to find the right customer insight, build based on it and execute meticulously with the customer in mind. Design Thinking is one well-established approach for this.
  4. You need to concentrate your management focus on this topic at every level (team, unit, company) and discuss it all the time. Build your reporting around it.
  5. Every decision, e.g. for investments, need to first pass the evaluation of improved customer experience and only then other evaluations, like business case.
  6. Your internal procedures and guidelines must always demand the proper consideration of customer experience impacts.
  7. You need to empower the whole organisation to act when they see even a slight risk of losing customer experience and implement corrective actions immediately.
  8. Appoint a person at a management team level to be responsible for all this.


Break the bubbles early


Doing all this has only primary goal: breaking your bubbles when they’re still small and fragile and not able to harm your customer satisfaction. After all happy customers are the only key to sustainable business success.


This actually reminds me of a Harvard Business Review article few years back where the authors, based on solid evidence, claimed that on the long term the strategy based on being better wins over the strategy of being cheaper. Focusing on customer experience is all about being better. It’s hard to know how to be better if you don’t understand what your customer’s value. And what your customer’s value, as buyers and as human beings, is what they are looking for in their experiences with you.


Aim for the elegant


Today’s business environment is by default full of pressure for financial performance. In order to balance that with customer focus and make sure you’re on a sustainable path, with plenty of good profits, you need to take the latter as the primary principle in your management system. The pressure to balance it with financial considerations is so high that you can’t miss that part anyway.


But the logic seems not to work the other way around. Starting from financial considerations might easily lead you to skip the customer part since your short-term rewards could be calculated already. And doing the rest is just extra effort that we humans tend to easily skip, especially when even incentivised to do so.


But it’s actually that extra effort that makes the whole difference in the long run. Truly win-win solutions are always available but not always the easiest to spot. By setting your priorities properly you press yourself and everybody in your organisation to aim for the elegant instead of the quick and easy. With those solutions you improve at the same time both customer experience and your financial performance.


Is your business stuck in a bubble? - BlogAfter all, the logic from satisfied customers to sustained business performance always exists, yet might not always be so obvious. But when you think from the perspective of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and do the math carefully the case for better customer experience is inevitable.

A business, where customer truly is the center of everything you do and elegant solutions are the norm, is still rare and, I bet, something painstakingly difficult for your competitors to match.