Business is great!

Things are running smoothly.  Production and service levels are high, expenses are under control, working capital is healthy and cash is flowing.  You’re meeting customer expectations, and they love doing business with you.

Taking a look back on your successes and challenges to achieving real customer delight and creating a truly customer-centric organization, you realize that it has taken several years to move the right people in place, train them to understand your products, systems, processes and customers.  Furthermore, your customers are delighted, loyal – they keep coming back and are referring new business.

You have built what truly feels like a customer-centric organization.

Congratulations!  Your customer-centric business is achieving what most people in business strive for – a product or service in demand, good steady growth, profitability and delivery of an excellent customer experience to boot.

Now what?

  • Do you just sit back and count the money as it rolls in?
  • Do you start to tinker with cutting costs?
  • How will you move forward?
  • How will you grow?

You know you need to do something, because what propelled you here may not be sufficient to keep you here.

Boats don’t float upstream.  Growing and improving a customer-centric business takes constant effort.

When the going’s good, or even when the workload increases and stress runs high, it can be tempting to cut a corner.  And cutting a corner, especially when it’s just one, often does not cause any major problems, making it easy to be comfortable assuming you just might be able to cut that corner without suffering any long-term customer loyalty consequences.

But here’s the problem: Cutting a corner, whether intentional or not, often leads to another, and then another.  Before you know it, cutting corners becomes internally acceptable, and meeting customer expectations begins to become more difficult.

If you are not careful, the customer-centric organization you worked so hard to build can start down the road to death by a thousand cuts.

Here’s a case in point:

Not too far from my home, there is a Mexican restaurant that I frequent on a fairly regular basis.  I was there the other day and ordered my usual beef tacos with all the trimmings.  One bite into the taco and uughhh, the meat was gristly and tough.  So I took a stab at the second taco.  Same thing.

I informed the manager, who knows I am a regular patron; he graciously allowed me to exchange my usual beef for chicken tacos and thanked me for letting him know. He apologized, explaining he had just switched beef suppliers.  He did not say it directly, but the manager clearly implied the new supplier cost less for the business and that was the reason for the recent change.

This is where trouble starts.

A customer-centric business makes one seemingly minor change to squeeze another percentage point or two of margin out of a transaction.  The risk is that even one minor change can upend customer delight and the entire customer experience, crush customer expectations and negatively affect customer loyalty.

What if I had had no previous experiences with this restaurant?

I may have sent the tacos back, or just settled for a few chips and salsa and left hungry.  Either way, I would not have been inclined to return after such a poor customer experience.

As difficult as it can be for a customer-centric business, reaching the top once is much easier than staying on top for an extended period of time.  Staying on top requires a much more proactive customer-focused and customer-centric approach.  In order to preserve the benefits of being a customer-centric organization, you must keep listening to and talking with your customers to refine and redefine an excellent customer experience.  You have to find ways to maintain the standards that catapulted you where you are and be mindful of the ramifications of cutting corners.  The long-term profitability of your business is at stake.