thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Customer Excellence as a Way of Life

By on April 1, 2009

Successful companies have an excellence quotient that they never compromise. The secret, however, is not in products and marketing. The secret is in creating this excellence from the viewpoint of the customer, because that is who will ultimately be the judge of whether they deserve that high status. The secret is in becoming customer-centered.

One great example is Pixar. It has a core value that people in the organization will produce nothing short of excellence in their animation. This approach is liberating because it forms the foundation of the confidence in employees to make decisions and take some creative risks. They are not afraid to challenge the status quo if it will produce a better result for their customers. Pixar is outstanding at doing what we all should do—make the deliverable the best it can be before the customer experiences it.

One of the cornerstones of Pixar's excellence is evidenced by its attention to detail. It uses lots of research to ensure accuracy and reality for its customers. For Finding Nemo, its commitment to realism drove employees to dissect fish and study their anatomies and they had lecturers teach them about algae and kelp, jellyfish movement and underwater translucence. For the movie Cars, the chassis and suspension were programmed to follow the terrain, so that the wheels would stay on the ground without asking the animators to adjust every frame. More dramatically, they used ray tracing in order that the cars' surfaces would show reflections of nearby object.

Pixar devotes real authority to the product development teams (not executives). These teams are collaborative and they review each others' work while it is still in process, which inspires further creativity and ensures that there are no surprises in the end when the finished product is delivered. They have developed the ability to recognize how their customers will use and benefit from the stories they create. Their philosophy is not to invent another platform to sell more toys and fast food meals. Rather, they create the best story and the highest quality animation and the sales will follow naturally.

If customers were told that Pixar was coming out with a new film-no mention of the theme, concept, or characters-most of them would say that they are sure that it will be great. That is the strength of the brand reputation the Pixar organization has built up.

What can we learn from an organization that has one of the highest possible trust levels and favorable brand identities among its customers? Pixar can teach us that uncertainty about the quality of what you are delivering is a recipe for inconsistency and poor performance. Excellence is not an act; it's a habit that is engrained throughout the organization. Excellence is grounded in the premise that the entire organization will think like its customers.

Customer-centered organizations care only about the best outcomes for their customers. Companies that only focus on profits never really achieve this high level of admiration from their customers. Customer-centricity begins with a goal of excellence, but it is not based on how good you think you are. Instead, it begins and ends with the willingness to let your customers define how excellent you are and to perform at the highest level in everything the customer experiences.

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2 Responses to “Customer Excellence as a Way of Life”

  1. Mark Price says:

    I completely agree with your description of a truly customer-centric company being fanatical about making the product the best they can at all times. As you said, "excellence is not an act; it is a habit..."

    I have seen companies seek to achieve succces and invest substantial resources and time in meeting THEIR standards for excellence, when their target customer segments had completely different needs and expectations. Companies must always be careful about "drinking their own kool-aid" -- belivving that they know best what their target csutomers need. The only way to make sure what these customers need is to ask them, and then build to their needs, not the perceived needs (or the passions) of the company.

    That can often mean exposing some harsh truths about what a customer target does and does not value. But "the truth shall set you free" -- free to add REAL value and enjoy real growth at the same time.

    In this economy, we all need to get closer to our customers and make sure our offerings are fine-tuned to their needs.

  2. Bill Self says:

    I agree that asking customers what they need and understanding what they value is essential. Too often corporations take off in misguided directions and claim benefits for customers that, in fact, really have no value to those customers. The Big Three automakers appear to have been on that path for years in failing to heed consumer demands. Hopefully they are turning that around at the present time.

    Success requires customer value research, which starts with asking customers directly. Successful organizations, however, develop this feedback into a flow of ideas rising out of those customer needs and a system which uses this flow of ideas to design products and services which are simpler and more effective from the viewpoint of the customer, as opposed to arbitrary defaults intended in large part for the convenience of the company that imposed them. Time-Warner’s recent announcement of a possible bandwidth cap (which has gotten panned in the media, of course) is just one example of a poorly thought out change that consumers don’t understand and certainly don’t like.

    The goal should be congruence or close matching of a seller’s offerings (and mindset, in general) with a buyer’s expectations to create abundance for both parties.

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