Is 2007 going to be the 'year of the customer'?
As business leaders at America's most successful firms begin the new year, many say they share a renewed commitment to driving productivity and providing better customer experiences to fuel growth, according to international training and consulting firm AchieveGlobal, which predicts that 2007 may turn out to be 'the year of the customer'.
According to company president and CEO, Sharon Daniels, "Many organisations have made all the cost savings they can. But as we move into 2007, their intention is more on growing the top line, acquiring new customers, and differentiating the company from its competitors."
Growth theme emerges Although each business faces its own set of challenges, growth is one common theme seen in almost all cases, whether in terms of finding new ways to drive growth, manage growth, or increase staffing levels to support growth.
Those organisations in saturated markets are also stepping up the pace of innovation, Daniels reported, with those companies with a global reach already straining to accommodate a world of diverse customers and cultures.
Ignore price, speed, efficiency? Because price, speed, efficiency, and many product lines can easily be matched by competitors, businesses are realising that they need to differentiate on other attributes. Daniels explained: "Many realise their efforts must be well targeted. The most successful organisations are focusing their sales systems to ensure their people pursue and secure the right kinds of customers, while also shoring up their frontline service teams to build positive, memorable experiences."
Indeed, after years of talking about efficiencies and cost-cutting, consumer-focused businesses are once again turning their attention to the customer rather than the product or service. Many are now placing renewed emphasis on customer experience management, too - a trend Daniels expects to continue as commoditisation makes it harder for organisations to compete.
Consumer response And it appears that customers will appreciate these renewed efforts. A 2006 study of mid-market companies by Loudhouse Research found that 94% of consumers ranked quality of service as a top priority, even above price and incentives. This was confirmed to a large degree when the Consumer Experience Survey from Harris Interactive and RightNow found that good customer service is as important as good products and low prices when it comes to customer loyalty.
According to Daniels, many industries are already putting this knowledge into action: "Consider the hospitality field. With so many brands and choices, these organisations understand the need to create experiences that keep customers coming back. The real stand-outs are working as teams to map out the right experiences rather than leaving it to chance. They are carefully crafting their sales and service processes and making sure their people have the right skills to carry them out."
Advice for 2007 In an increasingly competitive, fast-paced and global marketplace, Daniels advises organisations to concentrate on their people - their front-line staff - to grow the business, and to help them stay focused on customers: "When the entire workforce shares the same strategic vision, and is well prepared to carry out organisational goals, that can have a tremendous impact."