Getting closer to the customer – part 2

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay offer some advice on getting closer to the customer. Part two customer insights and involving teams in solutions.



It is essential to use customer insights as part of the process of getting closer to your customer. What do the people to whom the department provides a service believe the department or team does well? What services do the team provide that no longer meet customer requirements?

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For example, we worked with an HR team in a retail organisation to set up a feedback process about the service provided to their retail network of regional directors, area managers and branch managers.

The result was rather startling – much of the recruitment report HR had assiduously produced each quarter could be pruned back drastically. This feedback was supplemented by discussions with their customers and led to useful suggestions about what new information would work much better for their customers.

They also put forward ideas to sharpen up the whole recruitment process. This process was so successful it was repeated on a six-monthly basis and has been a major driver in improving service quality.

To keep the customer fresh in employees’ minds, one leisure business with whom we work holds customer experience workshops for all of its employees each year.

The outcome from every workshop is up to 10 project groups to tackle priority customer issues, giving employees at every level a chance to participate and hold discussions with customers.

Last year ideas that came forward included an updated ‘Who to Contact’ for customers and ways to improve technical support. An annual report back to the workshops shares the results and helps build on the suggested proposals.

Make customer metrics talk

We find that organisations often rely on one source of customer feedback, ignoring the insights that can be gained via social media and via face-to-face contact with customers such as focus groups and shadowing the customer as they interact with the organisation.

It is valuable to measure customer advocacy or enthusiasm for your organisation, but how well do you communicate the insight this provides to your team and use the information to help drive improvement?

Each team reviews the range of different customer information that it receives from online and face-to-face surveys, comment cards, Twitter and other social media.

This allows the teams to identify what is important to different customer types, how well they are performing in each function and what they need to do to improve. Teams share the insights and actions via team meetings, one-to-one reviews and notice boards.

At train operator East Coast, in order to make customer feedback more accessible and individual to all employees, the customer is no longer called ‘the customer’ but ‘Mrs Jones’.

This may sound quirky, but used in context it brings customers’ situations to life.

Involve the team in solutions

Vitally, in undertaking activities to help better understand the customer’s perspective, it is essential to involve team members in finding solutions to the blockages and barriers to excellent service. Returning to our earlier examples of both the conveyancer and the doctor’s receptionist, what is required is a change of mindset around their roles (to serve the customer) and increased emotional intelligence; there must also be improvements in the scheduling and work planning system.

Tackled in the right way, attitude and process change will lead to far more empathetic and efficient responses to the customer. We know this can work by involving the team in discussion, idea generation and in the implementation of service improvements, managers will engender greater ownership and accountability for customer-focused actions.

Expect to listen and take on board gripes too, this must be a genuine two-way development process, not a blame game. Also, such proactive efforts must be ongoing, not just a one-off big push, and this is where many organisations fail to achieve lasting change.

Lessons and action steps to drive customer-centricity

In summary, here’s what we suggest to get closer to the customer. Undertake a customer journey mapping exercise with your customers and your team.

·         Identify effort points – both for your customer and for the team – and set a plan of action to reduce these.

·         Spend time with your customers – invite them in to your organisation, watch and listen as they interact with your products and services, find out what they like and where your team can improve. Share findings and involve your team.

·         Identify who are your customers and gain feedback from them about the customer experience you provide and how this can be improved.

·         Get behind the customer satisfaction performance indicator that relates to your part of the business: find out what is really important to your customers and the opportunities for improvement.

·         Use a wide range of methods to identify and track customer insights, e.g. social media, focus groups, comment cards, questionnaires, user groups etc.

·         Instigate innovative ways to make customer data come to life: who is your ‘Mrs Jones’?

·         Set organisational and team priorities based on customer insights.

·         Set everyone in your team a customer objective.

·         Encourage internal team members to get closer to external-facing colleagues and customers, using techniques such as shadowing, job swaps and joint training events

·         Involve the team in generating ideas for service improvements and give them responsibility for their implementation.

Make it a priority to get closer to your customers. In today’s harsh business environment, there are increasingly severe penalties for organisations who fail to tune in to the customer and follow it through in every corner of their organisation. The solution is certainly no quick and easy matter, but a final point to bear in mind is this message:

“The longer you wait, the harder it is to produce outstanding customer service”1


1.      William H. Davidow, Total Customer Service, Harper 1989


About the author 

Sarah Cook is managing director of The Stairway Consultancy and Steve Macaulay is an associate of Cranfield School of Management’s Centre for Customised Executive Development.  Sarah can be contacted by email on and Steve on





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