Kevin Murray explains how really savvy leaders succeed in outsourcing inspiration.
Putting the customer first means ensuring that you bring customers into your firm and make how they feel a driving force behind employee behaviour. Why? Seeing how other people feel changes the way you feel. Employees are often much more motivated by hearing directly from customers about how they benefit from your products or services than by hearing it from managers.
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One of the reasons is that employees can often be cynical about the messages being delivered by their leaders. In contrast, customers are seen as more credible sources. Some have called this “outsourcing inspiration”.
This is why really savvy leaders find all sorts of ways to connect customer experiences more closely with employee behaviours. These leaders talk about customers all the time, they bring stories about customer experiences into the meeting rooms, the corridors and the groups around the water coolers. They bring research about customer satisfaction into brainstorms. They bring customers into meetings and get them to provide staff with a deeper understanding of their needs, or even work creatively together to find better solutions or products.
What should you be doing to use customers to inspire?
1 Do you know what stories your employees are telling? Are they about customers and service and ways to improve? Or are they about their frustrations, poor management, office politics? You really need to know.
2 Are you able to bring customers in to talk to your staff on a regular basis? And are you bringing different kinds of customers to the table?
3 If you are constrained from bringing customers into your meetings, can you go out and film them? Ask them how they benefit from what you do. Film them with your phone and use those films to stimulate a discussion on how to improve things at work.
4 Are you doing regular customer research? And are you bringing that feedback back to your team to stimulate the discussions that lead to performance improvement?
5 Are you online regularly, checking how your customers feel and what they’re saying about you? Out there and online, millions are talking to each other in a brutally frank way, and you have access to a huge and honest focus group.
6 Never forget that the positive customer stories you use with your own team can be hugely motivational when used with potential customers. Encourage your staff to tell those stories themselves, both inside and outside the organization. Word of mouth is a powerful positive force for increasing sales.
As a leader, you should always demonstrate that you love to hear customer stories, whether good, bad or indifferent. Leaders must become bad news junkies. Bad news is a way to fix problems. But be careful. As soon as you hear bad news and give someone the sharp end of your tongue, you’ll turn off the supply of bad news and rob yourself of the essential feedback you need to ensure success.
Kevin Murray is chairman of The Good Relations Group and is the author of two best-selling books: The Language of Leaders and Communicate to Inspire (Kogan Page).