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Executive Interviews: Interview with Christopher Meyer on Customer Centric Organisations
December 2010 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary


Christopher Meyer
Christopher Meyer
Chairman
Strategic Alignment Group

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  • What is Strategic Alignment Group into? What are the unique and differentiating features of the Group?
    Strategic Alignment Group is a consultancy based in Silicon Valley that helps firms recognize and navigate growth transitions and inflections. Growth transitions occur naturally while growth inflections are moments of opportunity where a firm accelerates away from competitors, or if unaddressed, falls behind.

    In sum, we help clients turn insight into success by leaning into and cocreating their future before it is obvious. What makes us unique is that we began our careers as

    behaviorists fascinated by the human dynamics of customers, leaders and employee interactions that drive business success. Like behavioral economists, we recognize that rational thinking is a human capability but not a certainty.

    Since 1983, we have applied this unique perspective to innovation, reducing time-to-market, strategic thinking and most recently, customer experience. Our work is published in the Harvard Business Review and in books such as Fast Cycle Time (Free Press, 1992). Our latest thinking is available at www.workingwider.com where we offer competitive insights on the challenges of global innovation.

  • Many congratulations for writing a wonderful and thought-provoking piece on customer experience in Harvard Business Review ("Understanding Customer Experience", HBR, February 2007).What prompted you to shift the focus from the traditional themes to this path-breaking theme of understanding customer experience? What were the antecedents to this insightful proposition?
    Many of our clients had been successful introducing new products and services using 'Fast Cycle Time' strategies but were not achieving the returns they had predicted. As we examined their results, it was clear that they focused on delivering products and services that met technical specifications but failed to provide a compelling customer experience. Digging into the problem, we quickly saw that there was a huge information gap inside these companies. Only the rare firm had any persistent customer experience evidence, few had periodic inputs and most relied on irregular and intermittent feedback from customer visits and trade shows. Besides being random and infrequent, customer experience information didn't circulate or become part of decision making.

    Businesses are driven by goals and steered by measures that detect and correct error relative to these goals. This is particularly true in engineering organizations. We began our customer experience efforts to correct this problem.

  • Several decades ago Peter Drucker said, "The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer". Yet,companies have at best involved in hard-sell sales pitches rather than show genuine concern for the customer. Why this dichotomy?
    This is a huge problem to unravel. Rooted in the tension between managerial control and trusting one’s employees and customers, the key to unlocking this is empathy. Managers regularly say "don't make me responsible for something I can't control." The reality of customer experience is that no single manager or function controls customer experience. Superior customer experience results when leaders make it a clear priority, supported by goals and timely information. Ultimate delivery relies on employee initiative. This takes us to the trust dimension.

    The toughest job is convincing leaders to trust their employees' judgment and accept customers' experience. Frankly, the advances in management analytics can hurt as much as they help. (see Darrell Huff's classic How to Lie with Statistics).

    My experience is that evoking empathy is far superior to convincing. Everyone has been a customer and employee. The more creatively you can put your leadership team into customer and employee shoes, the more likely you'll be to unlock the trust issue.

    Let's start with employees. Customer experience ratings and sales soar at firms like Zappos (now part of Amazon) because they give their people the responsibility and the right to solve the customers' problem. Employees are not handcuffed by overly detailed policies and procedures that transform them into machine-like robots serving up explanations rather than solving customer problems. Zappos' employees exercise judgment within broad customer-focused boundary conditions and self-correct using rapid feedback on satisfaction and financial implications.

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