First things first.
Establishing, refining and maintaining a marketing focus requires discipline. It has as much to do with how we think, as what we think.
Therefore, saving time, improving efficiency, lowering costs and enhancing value must necessarily be viewed through the prism of life. That is, from the consumers and customers perspectives.
Any business initiative which negatively impacts on the perceptions, expectations and experiences of existing, prospective and past clients has questionable value to any public or private sector entity, big or small.
Consumer advocates by name, title or nature must necessarily be at the table for major decisions. Ideally, they need to be articulate, passionate and respected by their peers. Such a position need not and, arguably, should not be found in a formal organizational chart.
There is little or no scope for leadership teams to second-guess consumer attitudes and responses. Effective advocates complement what is intended to be introduced, refined or withdrawn with the “why” factor. It is relevant to business-to-business situations as much as it is to business-to-consumer scenarios. They provide better insights, understanding and mutual respect.
No, the role is not one of being the Devil's advocate. Rather, it is being a customer's angel, on whose wings are delivered sales, profits, referrals, loyalty and development.
Hardened, driven executives experience genuine transformation when assigned to the role of consumer advocate.
Instances of remedial and corrective actions, together with the withdrawal of inappropriate products and services are minimised. Momentum and critical mass are more readily achieved. Competitive advantage is enjoyed.
Glib phrases like “customer focussed”, and “customer first” assume an air of authenticity when the true voice of the consumer and client is heard, comprehended and responded to.
Consumer advocates do not guarantee a risk-free, error-free future. Mistakes will be made. After all, they are representing consumers, who are not immune to risk and errors.
They do however, provide balance to technical expertise. There is considerable inherent value in the often emotional, subjective input of nontechnical consumers and clients.
Many information technology, accounting, financial, engineering, logistics and administrative specialists are remote from this, insensitive to the characteristics nature and drives of end users. These realities alone can be the porous foundations of the relationships with those whose needs, values and drive determine the measure of success for an entity.
Neither consumers nor their advocates have the right or the capacity to make all the decisions. However, their expressions and insights can and should contribute to better informed decisions being made and implemented.
Understandably, some business leaders will contend that consumers and their advocates slow down the decision making process. That is a true and fair call.
However, they contribute to the lowering of wastage factors, product recalls and withdrawals, as well as the need for product/service refinements, remodelling and price discounting as a means to make goods more marketable and acceptable.
In periods of economic downturns, heightened competitiveness and price sensitivity, the orientation of many leadership teams becomes very myopic. The survival instinct tends to be about “us”.
Consistent, persistent and passionate adherence to the philosophy of consumer/client advocacy enables retention of long term perspectives and the internal attributes and advantages of viable margins.... of profit, satisfaction, risk and loyalty. Team cohesion is more evident, workplace stability is palpable and a sense of high self-worth is promoted.
There is much to commend the phrase:
“It's not about us.
It's about them”
We can never know or understand customers and clients enough. There is a lot to be said for the sentiment of business leaders who repeatedly “walk a mile in the shoes of the customer”. To do so can become very comfortable, because there are few more reassuring words to customers than “I understand”.
It is those leaders who regularly telephone their businesses and endure the processes of 1300 and 1800 answering systems, stand in line to be served and pay accounts on-line who understand the importance of putting the customer first.
Typically, there are no short-cuts. And if any are discovered they should be promptly shared with all customers and clients.
So, before the next sets of strategically important decisions are made and are about to be implemented, do ensure that respect is given to the underlying philosophy of the phrase, “First Things First” (read customers).