Move your perspective – and thus your customers!

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Move your perspective – and thus your customers!

Wednesday, 28. February 2018


by Norbert Pühringer

„Customer first“. Easy as it sounds, it is much harder to implement. In daily business, many companies focus more on internal processes than on their customers. A change of perspective is more than necessary.

"We focus on our customers”. All companies say so. And yet, they don’t act like it. Customer focus obviously is not as simple as it seems. It’s about the attitude of the employees towards the customer. What do I contribute to the customers’ benefit? Why can this question not be answered by many employees? Because at their workplace there is far too much corporate perspective but too little customer perspective.


Too much company perspective

Many companies have gone a successful path otherwise they wouldn’t be where they are today. Often, small beginners became big players. But then, suddenly, the success story stopped, within some few seasons. The symptoms are often the same: too many retail spaces, too wide the assortments, too little focus lead to a complexity within the company that distracts from what the customer really wants. The result can be learned the hard way by the customer day-to-day. The following examples show, how different the views are.

Mistake 1: Broad, undefined target group, not sufficiently differentiated range of products (value proposition)

Customers are looking for suppliers with products that suit them. They don’t want to fight their way through the dense jungle of offers to find the right product. In times of “Anything-Always-Anywhere” there is only one currency: relevance. I only notice those, who address me personally. In fact, many companies try to reach a customer base as broad as possible, because in difficult times every Euro counts. The result: a diffuse value proposition that generates neither attention nor desirability and nobody really feels addressed.

Mistake 2: Thinking inside distribution channels
Customers are simple and complicated at the same time. Simple, because they want to satisfy their needs without much hassle. Complicated, because they also like to spend some time to be seduced and get fresh impetus (impulse). Depending on their mood and willingness to buy, their demands should be met by 100 % and not only by 80 %. Customers do not think about the respective channel they are currently using corresponding to the sales point of view.
However, companies consider distribution channels as very important and are structured correspondingly. With quite different points of view: the sales manager wants a peaceful price front in order not to bother his retail partner; the retail store relies on coupon campaigns; the partner store tries to increase sales with discounts; the Online Manager lets the algorithm decide what the customer sees. Four different, contradictory messages that the customer cannot and does not want to understand.


Mistake 3: Lack of employees’ dedication
Most customers consider digitalisation to be the holy grail of commerce. They can get information about the product before buying, search for competitors’ prices still in the shop, read the last customer reviews or post a photo of the latest outfit to friends straight from the dressing room. What they don’t understand: the sales person doesn’t want to sell articles online that are not available in store.

Employees rather consider digitalisation to be a threat to their job than a chance for even better customer relationships. That’s not due to investments in new technologies like tablets, beacons or magic mirrors. It’s rather that employees are hardly ever involved when it comes to integrating the different channels. The management seems to know way better what’s good for the employees and the customers and is surprised why the employees are little enthusiastic about the fancy new tools.


The path to a customer-centric future

The examples show what happens when companies become too self-absorbed and lose track of the customers’ (and employees’) needs. The ability to view things from the customers’ perspective and quickly learn from his behaviour as well as the willingness to try something new will be the key competencies of organisations in these times of constant change.

More customer focus does not start with technological innovations, but with company culture and the attitude of the employees towards the customer. Customer focus is nothing else than a consequent change of perspectives – and that’s not always easy for people. Simply because we appreciate our own perspective more than anyone else’s.

To adopt a customer-centric attitude means – for the management as well as for all employees – to remain consequent even when the situation turns out to be uncomfortable, because, for instance, I have to change my intra-company processes. This may involve having to change my own habits, having to work with colleagues I have never involved yet, actively changing my own processes to be more customer-orientated or to be nice to customers even if I just don’t feel like it. The path to a customer-centric company is not a sprint, because every company has an enormous force of inertia. It needs quite a lot of patience and a well synchronised development roadmap to reach a sustainable change in corporate culture. Or, even better: customer culture. The following elements seem to be crucial for this path:


  1. Excellent understanding of your customers’ needs
    A clear picture of the target customer ensures internal orientation. Independent resources are needed to develop and maintain knowledge about your customers’ needs. This knowledge is only valuable if it is utilized by the employees.
  2. Focus on top performance
    The customer only perceives what’s relevant for him personally. He doesn’t settle for 80 %. He wants 100 %. It is essential to prioritize: Less is more. All or nothing.
  3. Customer-centric structures and processes
    The organizational structure follows the customer, not the channels. Processes are designed consistently – from the idea to the point of sale. Tools must be useful for the employee and thus will be for the customer.
  4. Agile management
    Managers encourage security and confidence. Individual responsibility and freedom of decision create motivation. Joint success beats individual success.

Examples of successful customer perspective
Continued focus on the customers’ needs can be found everywhere and with all business models. From verticals to global brands or local multi-brand retailers. Here are three specific examples:

  • Understanding what the customer didn’t buy. Zara does not only want to understand what the customers buy, but also what they have been looking for in vain. Not only do they analyse the online search of the customer. Also, the store managers report to the headquarters, which articles have been asked for by the customers in store and not found in the range. These findings are directly integrated into their product development.
  • See now, buy now. Tommy Hilfiger organises fashion shows in attractive settings for social media opinion leaders and selected end users. The collection shown can directly be ordered via app from the catwalk and is available shortly afterwards in their own stores, online and via social media. This creates attention and desirability among the customers.
  • Learning in personal conversations. Every Saturday morning, L+T in Osnabrück invites customers to a round table in order to learn from them. The feedback is directly incorporated in assortment and marketing decisions. This way, the company learned to specifically point out their special services - up to then unknown to the customers.


What do these companies have in common? They are permanently concerned with understanding their customers better and develop ideas how they can integrate this knowledge in a useful way for their customers’ benefit. A great deal of work is required for the implementation. The most important indicator of success is a satisfied customer who has not noticed any of this effort.


Norbert Pühringer
is partner and corporate developer with Team Retail Excellence. He supports retailers to act customer-focused. He is convinced that this can only happen when managers and employees find the correct attitude and enjoy making the necessary changes.


Change Management
Customer Service
Performance Management
Retail Strategy