thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer


By on February 4, 2009

When a plant is put in a window, over time it begins to lean toward the light. There is a natural tendency "in every living system to be inclined toward positive energy-toward light-and away from negative energy or from the dark. The reason is that light is life-giving and energy creating."

Great thanks to Kim Cameron and Marc Lavine in Making the Impossible Possible: Leading Extraordinary Performance: The Rocky Flats Story, for this insight about what is known as a heliotropic effect, from "heliotropism" which is Greek for "turning toward the sun." This phenomenon manifests itself in one side of the stem growing rapidly to shift the direction of the flower to face the sun. If you have ever passed a field of sunflowers at different times of the day, it is fun to notice the flowers follow the position of the sun across the sky.


Let me remind you how the science works. A plant's side opposite to the sun grows more quickly while the side facing the sun grows very little. The technical answer is that the flower's orientation to the sun is due to differential growth of the stem. A plant-growth regulator builds up on the shaded side of the plant when unequal light conditions exist. Because of this, the darker side of the plant grows faster than the sunlit side, causing the stem to bend towards the sun."

Phototropism is the plant's tendency to "know" which way the source of light is. Using its photosynthetic properties, in other words, a plant improves its survival rate. Does this sound like strong brand identity and how your customers behave in following companies that outperform their competitors?

Cameron and Lavine cite a number of organizational studies that prove that generous, abundant behavior creates "an upward spiral of improvement". The resulting actions attract customers who observe a corporate behavior designed to improve their lives (not the suppliers' internal costs). It creates a sense of attachment and this attraction strengthens customer loyalty, in other words. Leadership in extraordinary companies believes in always giving more than they expect to receive. In fact, that is the secret-to give unselfishly. If you do it well, you will get your reward sometime later-a pattern that Cameron and Lavine call an ‘upward spiral of improvement.'

This is grounded in the belief that eliminating customer problems is ordinary behavior. Problems cannot be ignored, of course. But customers expect organizations to take care of these. Extraordinary performance derives from enabling customers to succeed and from visualizing a service to those customers that never stands still. As a leader, educate your culture to believe that you will attract more and more loyal customers by doing and being what they want.

Don't approach your role as just a supplier; be a positive energy source. Most organizations give lip service to being solutions-providers to their customers. But, when they proactively think like their customers, this pattern creates an energy source that attracts these customers, just as the sun attracts plants. Instead of simply being a one-dimensional provider of goods or services, these organizations are the center of an ecosystem that delivers what customers need to be successful.

Customers relate to organizations that embody this generative, idea-developing energy toward their customers. Consequently, these suppliers are perceived as much higher performers. They are legendary, rather than ordinary.


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