How to reconnect your leadership team with your customer

Leading a dynamic, entrepreneurial SME is often akin to the battle of David and Goliath. To win against the big fish you need to be clever and exploit their vulnerabilities; their tendency to become slow moving, tied up in decision-making hierarchies and distanced from the customer. This competitive mindset is laid out by inspiring writer Adam Morgan in his book Eating the Big Fish, where he outlines his ‘credos’ for challenger brands to win. Small Fish must adapt to survive since status quo isn’t an option unless you want to get eaten. They are nimble, in tune with their customers’ needs, and create innovative solutions to suit them, to build real competitive advantage.
Creating an outstanding customer experience as a competitive advantage was covered in our article here, but keeping an objective view isn’t easy when you are doing the day-to-day. With financial pressures, cash flow, sales promotions, and operational efficiencies all topics of discussion, how can you keep the senior leadership team in tune with the people you are running your business for? With this is mind, we got thinking and have come up with five ideas:
Walk out and come back in again
Shamelessly stolen from Mr. Morgan and his first credo about breaking with your immediate past, you can ‘sack yourself’ and return with fresh, objective eyes on the business.
A recent survey of 75 chief marketing officers of medium and large-sized organisations revealed that three quarters had not experienced their own brand from the outside in, and I can only believe the number gets worse as we look around the rest of the board. Effective business leaders don’t assume they know their customer, or rely on market research to understand them; instead they do what it takes to experience it. The question is what can you do to simulate that sacking experience for you and your team?
Get your top team out on the shop floor
When was the last time your finance or ops director met a customer? Everyone in your leadership team makes decisions every day that impacts them, yet how can they be sure those decisions are the best ones without a clear understanding of who you are all serving?
Regardless of the size of your business, if you are creating a can-do, customer-first attitude you want everyone in your team, from CEO down, to stand up and lead that agenda. That can only happen if they truly understand their customers’ needs so get them involved with customers, whether it is working on the shop floor a day a month, attending pitches or meeting customers at events.
Remember Cheers, the bar where everyone knows your name
Remember the days when the owner of the local corner shop knew your name and asked how your family were doing, or when banks had a manager who knew your business inside out. Those experiences make you feel special as a customer. Just because your local store is now a Tesco and your bank has abandoned you to an overseas call centre doesn’t mean you should do the same to your customers.
If you have the benefit of a small customer group, try remembering just one or two details about your customer – keep a spreadsheet if it helps – and add notes about interesting things that come up in conversation, so you can bring them up next time you meet. If you have a high volume customer base – such as retail or e-commerce, inspire everyone in the team to do the same, so that regular customers are recognised by shop staff making them feel important and consequently more loyal.
Have everyone answer the phone
It never sits well with me that an outsourced call center talks to the most important people to your business – your customers – especially when you think that those customers are probably only calling because they are (a) happy… feedback we all want to hear, or (b) unhappy… which means you need to deal with it brilliantly to make them happy again.
Cue brands like Innocent smoothies who have the legendary ‘banana phone’ that is still, 12 years on, and 250 people later, answered by anyone in the company. Similarly, King of Shaves CEO, Will King personally tweets and engages with customers everyday on the phone, making a personal pledge to put right their problems.
Get the whole team listening in on social media
Listening in and hearing what customers are saying about your business is an accelerated way to get close to understanding their views and social media provides the perfect platform to do this.
Through forums, posts, and tweets from customers you can start to learn about issues and ideas about your products and services more quickly than ever before, giving a real-time view of what they think of your business and how you could improve. Whether every team member gets a twitter account, or everyone just takes it in turns to monitor what is going on, everyone can be engaged and learning direct.
How you help your leadership team reconnect with your customer will be very personal to your business, but you can certainly have some fun with it, and it can start with just one inspiring individual. The question is will it be you?
Written by Christina Richardson, a business marketing specialist and founder of The Nurture Network: The on-demand marketing department for ambitious start-ups, and entrepreneurial SMEs  – bringing great marketing people into your team just when you need them.