Ann All spoke with Craig Cochran, the North Metro Regional Manager with Georgia Tech's Economic Development Institute. A Certified Quality Manager, Certified Quality Engineer and Certified Quality Auditor through the American Society for Quality, Cochran is the author of "The Continual Improvement Process: From Strategy to the Bottom Line," "Customer Satisfaction: Tools, Techniques, and Formulas for Success" and "Becoming a Customer-Focused Organization."
All: Can becoming a more customer-focused organization help a company improve its bottom line?
Cochran: Becoming customer-focused definitely improves its bottom line. Customers provide the "top line" of that formula, which is revenue. A company that is not customer-focused will find that its revenue gradually shrinks as it loses business to firms that are customer-focused. Without revenue, it's impossible to have profit. A company that innovates its products, acts on customer feedback, jumps on complaints, and really gets to know its customers will constantly find its revenue growing. With growing revenues, all you have to do is keep costs steady and your profits will increase. This is the formula for long-term success.
All: Do some companies become so focused on improving their internal operations that they neglect their customers? What are some of the other challenges in becoming a customer-focused organization?
Cochran: Unfortunately, it's quite common for companies to turn inward and forget why they're in business. They get so wrapped up in their internal processes and procedures that they begin to serve these processes and procedures, instead of serving their customers. That's why it's important to clearly identify who is the customer of every major process within the company. If a process doesn't have a customer (internal or external), then it must be removed. My book describes the use of a process matrix that identifies the customer of each process, method of monitoring, and the criteria for success. When a company builds its management system around a tool like this, the customer is never far from mind. Another failure of companies is preoccupying over their own metrics and internal objectives and not monitoring metrics that indicate success from the customers' point of view.
All: What are some strategies companies can use to improve their customer focus?
Cochran: 1) Use a variety of methods of capturing feedback on a continuing basis, 2) Take action on feedback and follow through to completion, 3) Treat complaints like red alerts that threaten the life of the organization, 4) Let customers know what you've done on their complaints. If you don't tell them, they may not notice; 5) Constantly innovate products and services, 6) Build your management system around processes and their customers. Make sure every process knows who its customer(s) are; 7) Set up processes that enable you to know your customers on a personal level; 8) Remove non-value added activities. Keep all processes and procedures lean; 9) Constantly train personnel and remind them how they impact customers; 10) Get employee input on improvements/innovations to products and services.