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Ginger Conlon | August 5, 2011

Attitude and the Customer Experience


Converging forces like increasingly demanding customers and harsh market conditions have made the competitive landscape tougher than ever. It can be a challenge to stay positive and to continue to focus on customer experience when the pressure to grow is so intense. Lisa Nirell, author of Energize Growth Now: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company, shared some insight with me recently about ways to do both (stay positive and customer focused) and to create growth as a result.

Success in today's market seems to require the right attitude. What is that attitude and what's the link between it and customer experience?
Attitudes are shaped by our belief systems, or BS for short. These are stories we tell ourselves about our growth prospects. Your personal and companywide BS can be viscerally felt by your customers. B2B customers don't just want a solution that improves their business condition; they want relationships with people who are as passionate about their solution. And passion either undermines or optimizes the customer experience. Just ask Zappos, EMC, Starbucks, or Amazon customers.

What about corporate values? How do you use them to get alignment with customer strategy and business goals?
Values are defined as "the way we do things here." They shape and inform behaviors and customer relationships. One [company] was able to clarify its values after spending 18 years wallowing in a muddy soup of unclear goals and opportunistic marketing. [Management] created a list of five core values and used that to define the company's marketing messaging. Within 12 months the company became cash flow positive, grew top line revenues by 25 percent, and was featured in Inc. magazine.

How can a marketer or customer experience professional determine what growth measures should matter most?
I highly recommend that executives look at what stage of growth they're facing. In fact, dedicate a whole chapter of my book to this topic. For example, a startup will need to track new account acquisition and viral impact. Conversely, a company reaching maturity and surpassing its high growth phase needs to measure its ability to streamline distribution, optimize positioning, deploy a cogent succession planning strategy, and penetrate new markets.

Sometimes in the push for growth, companies focus on acquiring and retaining as many customers as possible. Is it more important today to focus on attracting and keeping the "right" customers?
Great question! Let's return to the earlier values discussion. For example, do you deeply value building a great customer-centric culture, sustainability, longevity, or community impact? If any of these values describe your company, then nurturing great customers is far more important than winning at any cost. ING Direct has more than 7 million highly loyal customers because it's comfortable saying "no" to high-maintenance, unprofitable ones.

How can segmentation help?
Segmentation is essential to defining your ideal customer...unless you are a startup. In that case, you need to be flexible enough to allow the market to define itself for you as you mature and learn how your company will transform and improve their condition. You can expect to kiss a few frogs.

What are companies today doing that they should stop doing if they want to maximize growth while improving the customer experience??
I recommend that every company stop doing strategic planning without an "outside in" approach. Use feedback from your entire stakeholder community and watch out for excessive navel gazing activity (such as an internal, four-day offsite planning meeting). Insist that every key executive dedicate at least one day per month with customers. That will energize and inform their view on growth, and bolster your belief in your company's future potential.


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