Friday, February 15, 2013

Don't ever let any employee lose sight of the customer




At IKEA, every employee that doesn't work at a store, from the CEO and administrative personnel to the people installing and maintaining servers at their data centers, have to work for a few days every year in an IKEA store. That means all IKEA employees, not only those who work at a store, are meeting and serving customers. After a few days in the trenches, they have gained real-world experience from Ikea's core business, including the challenges the store personnel face when meeting and serving customers. They can bring that experience back to their office and, hopefully, better understand what they can do to make the core business even more successful. Most importantly, they never lose sight of the customer and that serving and providing value to the customer is their reason for existence.

I have asked myself many times why I haven't heard of any other company doing the same thing. A lot of companies try to copy their business model, their products, and even the entire concept and customer experience. But they don’t seem to copy the things that build the IKEA culture.

When I help organizations improve their customer experiences or internal processes and ways of working, I start by talking to the people who meet the customer. A good starting point is the customer service people, because no one understands better what works and doesn't work - seen from the eyes of the customer. They usually also have a good view on what business activities add value to the customer and what activities are waste.

It is my experience that the further away from the real customer people are, the more they tend to focus their time and energy on things that don't have a clear connection to creating value to the customer; politics, climbing the career ladder, who reports to whom, inventing new roles, fighting to protect their positions. Simply speaking, the things you cannot spend time and energy on when you are standing next to a customer.

It is my opinion that everyone in an organization should be part of customer service, and work with customer service for at least a few days per year. What would happen if every employee, regardless of what they work with, would start their work day by asking questions such as: How can I serve the customer today? How can I make the life of the customer easier or better? Will the things I have planned to add value to the customer? If not, how can I avoid doing them and do something of value?
I am pretty sure it would help to transform an organization from mediocrity to greatness.