What does customer-focus really mean?

Jack Welch, while CEO of General Electric, would often say, “Companies don’t give job security.  Only satisfied customers do.”

Customer-focus in large organizations

Welch was frequently accused of being overly blunt and aggressive in his communication.   But Frank Lutz, author of Words that Work, describes how candor is also what made Welch so effective in generating customer focus within his organization.

Welch said, “I used my words to give your people a more outward focus on the customer so that they would always try to satisfy the customer.”

He’d have coffee with assistants and staff once a month when he was re-structuring the company.  During these sessions, employees frequently asked him if they’d still have a job after staff functions were downsized.

Welch would tell the employees to look at their phone logs for the answer.

“If the phone logs were filled with incoming calls from customers – mostly wanting to buy product – that’s a good sign of job security.  But if the calls were coming from the corporate offices requesting reports and information, that wasn’t a good sign.”

Welch said, “I communicated quite plainly that you’d have job security if you were customer-focused, and you wouldn’t if you weren’t.”

 Jack Welch made the meaning and importance of customer focus clear.

Customer-focus in a small organization

Bowdoin College is a small (less than 2,000 students) liberal arts college in the town of Brunswick, Maine.  It differs on many levels from the corporate behemoth of General Electric.  Yet Bowdoin’s HR Department, with its staff of 9 professionals has made a point of defining customer focus on its HR website.

They define customer focus as keeping internal and/or external customer(s) in mind at all times. Customer focus means striving to “proactively address customer concerns and needs.  Assists business partners and customers to achieve their work goals via application of their own skills and knowledge; strives to provide consistent customer satisfaction.”

Bowdoin’s HR site goes on to provide the following examples of customer-focus, from an HR perspective:

  • Creates opportunities for customers to clarify and prioritize business expectations
  • Enlists the agreement and support of customers before moving forward with key decisions
  • Follows up with customers to make certain they are satisfied and ask whether further assistance is necessary
  • Actively listens to customers and involves them in all stages of planning
  • Views situations from the perspective of the customer
  • Talks easily with customers about their need
  •  Discusses options with the customer for alternate ways to meet expectations efficiently and cost-effectively, etc.

Customer-focus in your organization

Every organization ultimately exists to serve its customers.  And to truly serve and get it right from the customer’s perspective requires a keen and constant focus on the customers’ needs and expectations.  The most effective organizations – large and small -  take purposeful steps to communicate the meaning and need for customer focus.

Can all your employees describe what customer focus is, and how they carry it out in their daily work?