Fortune Magazine asked 25 accomplished people about the best advice that they were ever given; it’s worth reading. I picked out 8 pieces of advice that I thought were particularly relevant to customer experience efforts. Here they are, with my comments:
- “Focus on those things you do better than others.”
Peter G. Peterson, Co-founder and Senior Chairman, Blackstone Group
My take: You need to understand what makes your company special in the eyes of your customers; and it should show up in everything you do and every decision that you make. This fundamental premise is captured really well in a couple of older Harvard Business Review articles (that later became books): The Core Competence of the Corporation and Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines.
- “Good story, but it’s hard to look smart with bad numbers.”
Mark Hurd, Chairman and CEO, Hewlett-Packard
My take: It’s hard to convince business leaders to make an investment in customer experience if you use bad or superficial numbers in your analysis. So spend time with the finance department and other internal financial analysts to make sure your business case is solid.
- “Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent.”
Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, Pepsico
My take: It’s official; I’m joining the Indra Nooyi fan club. This Fortune article and her description in Time Magazine shows that she has a great sense of leadership. All too often, burdensome processes are put in place to keep customers from defrauding the company or to keep employees “in line.” Using Nooyi’s advice, you can simplify many processes by assuming that most customers are honest and that most employees want to do what’s right.
- “If I waited for you to turn, you and the defensive player would have an equal chance to get the ball. Your opportunity is gone.”
Eddie Lampert, Chairman and CEO, ESL Investments; Chairman, Sears Holdings
My take: You need to think several steps ahead, like a chess player, in every strategy that you are considering; factoring in the response by customers and by competitors. This reminds me of a quote from Wayne Gretsky when he was asked what made him a great hockey player: “Other people skate to where the puck is, and I skate to where it is going to be.”
- “To thine own self be true.”
Bob Iger, President and CEO, Walt Disney
My take: This is a key message at a personal level, but it also has meaning for companies. Organizations need to continually foster their key purpose, or they will lose site of who they are. That’s clearly part of the problem that Starbucks is facing today. This advice is also useful when thinking about your marketing efforts; don’ t try and portray your company as something it’s not; that’ll just lead to empty promises.
- “Get sales up, and keep expenses down.”
Nelson Peltz, CEO, Trian Fund Management
My take: Promoting customer experience for the sake of customer experience is not a sustainable approach. At the end of the day, you need to make the clear economic case that customer experience efforts will improve business results. If not, they’ll get displaced by other initiatives that have a clear economic benefit.
- “Spend a ton of time with your customers. Especially when you’re new, the first thing you should do is go out to customers and ask them how you compare with competitors, how your service is, what they think of your products.”
Charlene Begley, President and CEO, GE Enterprise Solutions
My take: There’s nothing more powerful or aligning than clearly hearing the voice of the customer. All too often people put their own spin on what customers need or want, so it’s important that you hear what customers are saying in their own voices. But don’t listen though a starry-eyed lens, make sure you hear the reality of the situation. As I learned from Jack Welch: “Deal with the world as it is, not how you’d like it to be.”
- “Have a point of view about the future that focuses on the customer.”
Alan Mulally, President and CEO, Ford Motor Company
My take: While companies often have visions, many aren’t in the right form. Start with a picture of where your customers will be and make sure that your vision is described through their eyes. If you can’t articulate what customers you’ll serve and describe what they’ll want, then you can’t hope for anything more than an empty vision.
The bottom line: When it comes to good advice, borrowing is a virtue.