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The “customer strategy” era is going to skyrocket turnover

Customer strategy

Big topic in business circles today: customer strategy.

Sure, you can call it customer experience or design thinking or whatever else. (Just don’t call it customer service; that’s different.)

Forbes probably publishes 12-14 articles/day now about customer strategy, most of which could probably be printed on toilet paper to the same effect. I digress. Many other publications are similar.

Everyone seemingly wants a breathless customer strategy or focus on customer experience.

And on face, this is all logical. Your customers buy whatever you produce and that’s your revenue, so having a customer strategy seems noble.

It’s the flip side that’s the problem.

What’s the flip side of this focus on customer strategy?

Let me call out one paragraph of a recent article on customer experience:

He actually does make that point, that customer centricity partly depends on your own center of gravity, too. That you want to find the right thing. We did a mini-survey of some professional services firms. And one of the things they said is a big problem is that they are lured from their sweet spot by clients who ask them to do things, because they want to be customer centric, but the customer’s sort of putting them on the wrong foot. And it’s hard to say no.

Bazinga.

Customer strategy will still be rooted with managers, right?

And unfortunately, many managers aren’t good at their jobs — especially around determining and executing on priorities. A lot of managers view a term like “customer-centric” as:

  • “I need do anything and everything the customer asks.”

This completely removes any sense of professional boundaries, and as the client/customer yelps for more things, who will bear the brunt of that work? The manager? Somewhat yes, in the form of emails and calls. But mostly the employee level, where each of these customer requests will become “an absolutely urgent project.”

OK, let’s trace this intersection

Generally we’re going to look at:

  • “A renewed focus on customer experience and customer strategy,” which leads to…
  • … managers taking on more and more work from clients/customers, which leads …
  • … competing and shifting priorities for that manager’s team, which are then likely …
  • … communicated poorly, and also probably …
  • … defined as urgent, meaning that …
  • … an employee has 14 urgent tasks to complete, but lacks clarity on which are truly priorities, but right now …
  • … the manager can’t be bothered because he’s working on those customer needs again, so …
  • … here comes the cycle Part II.

What do you think is going to happen?

Turnover will increase. Polish up the resume and LinkedIn. The grass must be greener on the other side, right? Right. (It’s not always.) We’re already seeing global increases in turnover, and global declines in “engagement” (vague term yes) with work. The main reason for those stats is because tech advanced a ton and management barely changed at all. All these issues around “customer strategy and experience” are tied to that — the tech is there to do the experiences right, but the people managing the processes are fucking off-task by about 14,219 miles.

The one shift we need to make

Semantic, but:

Think of employees as internal customers.

They don’t buy stuff and drive revenue, no — but they make stuff and work on stuff that becomes revenue. And you pay them.

So shouldn’t you have a “customer strategy” on the employee side?

Oftentimes this is as couched in BS — “Employee Engagement Platforms And Funnels, Oh My!” — as the external customer strategy. And usually it’s owned by HR, so the executives don’t care. HR isn’t at the meetings that the execs prepare for. Sorry to be honest.

But rather than saying “work is bullshit” and giving up, we could try harder.

Have an external customer strategy about distribution, experience, etc.

Have an internal customer strategy around how you treat people, determine their workflow, etc. 

Both are important, because one without the other means you’ll either generate poor revenue (no external) or constantly be scrambling to get new people up to speed and working on the right things (no internal).

Got anything else on customer strategy and its internal implications?

Ted Bauer

2 Comments

  1. Saw this in a nonprofit context a few years ago doing Sandy recovery in NYC. The org I worked for did whatever it could to bend over backwards to give volunteers a “good experience” (including allowing children under 16 to volunteer on construction sites, ’cause OSHA regulations don’t matter when they MIGHT give $300 if they had fun with a power saw!) and early on even failed to get signed detailed workscopes, so clients would start demanding things that were beyond the purview of what would be appropriate for a disaster recovery organization to provide.

    As a result? The org is infamous for its exceptionally high employee turnover.

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