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Article -> Spring Ahead with Customer Strategy

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Date Added: April 2007

The Northern U.S. recently received a snowy blast reminding us of our environment‘s uncertainty. Weeks ago, we experienced summer temperatures and it appeared summer was fast approaching. As you read this, I hope signs of spring have returned.
 
Unlike the weather, some environmental elements are certain – the sun rises every morning – even though you may sometimes be unable to see it. Yet, the business climate is always uncertain. Take, for instance, revenue from supposed “loyal” customers. What would you do if, similar to a warm weather teaser, this relationship became as cold as an April snowstorm?
 
Sensible organizational leaders invest time in developing an effective customer strategy. Asking for customers’ wants is merely a tactic. A customer strategy – complete with the ability to ask, listen, learn and act – is the way to differentiate. Six steps will help you avoid customer frostbite:
 
1.      Assess the Current Situation. Similar to continuous review strategic planning, ask,
         “Where are we today?” or “Are we partnering with the right customers?”
2.      Determine Internal Touchpoints. Involve people from throughout your organization to
         determine attributes about your brand and products. This creates additional support.
         My next article discusses branding in more detail.
3.      Prioritize Customers. Establish if you have the right customers. Then perform a deeper
         analysis of your best customers based on some criteria – revenue, profitability or
         another factor. Remember, your best customers will not leave you in bad weather any
         time a flash-in-the-pan deal comes around.
4.      Evaluate Research Needs, Objectives and Budgets. Determine what you need to learn
         about customers’ perceptions of your organization. This may be done through
         quantitative research – a questionnaire – and qualitative research – asking customers
         open-ended questions. The most savvy and innovative marketing tactics are pointless
         without sound research backing a probable return.
5.      Conduct Research. Determine how your customer touchpoints feel about your brand and
         products. Does your brand makes sense and mean something to them? How you can
         better meet customers’ needs? If they are true partners, you shouldn’t be surprised by
         how much they are willing to tell you.
6.      Develop Action Plans. Based on your customers’ unique needs, listen, learn and create
         customer-specific action plans. Share these with customers. Remember the internal
         touchpoints from step #2? Involve them in the customer action plan.
 
An internal culture to meet customer needs and exceed expectations is one key component of organizational strategy as it helps build long-term customer and employee relationships. Those believing any one of these – culture, strategy or customers – are more important than the others are only monkeying around. Organizational success is achieved by focusing on each of these – equally.
 
Organizations need customers to survive; just as they need good people to take care of the customers, and a strategy aligning these together. Your customer strategy and people strategy should work hand-in-hand – sometimes to dig you out of an unexpected storm.
 
 
This article was published in the Green Bay Press-Gazette on April 22, 2007.
 
 
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