Removing Internal Roadblocks to Reach Customer-First Goals, Part 1

Posted to Appos Advisors in the Utility Management Group
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Vanessa Edmonds's picture
Executive Director & Advisor, Utility 2030 Collaborative & Appos Advisors

Transformation strategist, speaker, and writer who pursues solutions to help utility leaders reinvent the customer experience. Honored to be leading people-centered utility transformation...

  • Member since 2014
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  • Oct 1, 2020

When we think about becoming a customer- and prospect-centric organization, what do we see at the end of the ‘customer-first’ rainbow? The marketing team ignites action and delivers quantifiable results. The sales team gets bigger commissions, because they are empowered to sell company and product value instead of price. The service department starts enjoying weekends again. The operations department spends less time on flawed policy fixes. The management team delivers against a consistent strategy and not a flavor of the month. And the CEO sees increased valuation.

The value proposition of a ‘customer-centric’ organization is there. Everyone has bought into it. So why is it that becoming a customer-centric enterprise takes a back seat to other competing interests, and how do companies connect what is currently disconnected? I recently sat down with Brian Sulka, a fractional COO at Provisus Partners to find out.

Vanessa: Because customer-obsessed companies like Amazon and Chick Fil A are driving new and fast-evolving customer expectations, most companies want to work towards becoming more customer-centric. But they are running into roadblocks. What are some of these roadblocks?

Brian: Misalignment, shifting priorities and unempowered leaders. Customer Centricity requires a culture change, and most companies hungry for growth often bite off too many competing priorities. At a macro level, competing interests include profits, innovation, and competition. At a micro level, politics, complacency, burn out and egos get in the way of having a customer focus. By the time the “customer-centric” message reaches everyone at the company, the fidelity of the message has been diluted. Core operational problems fill in the gaps in the day and soon those distractions become the focus.


Vanessa: What is the root cause of these problems?

Brian: Leaders think they have a customer experience problem instead of a core, organizational problem. Customer Service problems are the symptom of the root cause. Leaders forget the years of flawed, operations fixes and the time and distraction they take away from the team. They are also either blind or feel incapacitated to address the team misalignment.


Vanessa: How can companies fix them?

Brian: Meet regularly and have the right people in the right seat. Make sure the leader’s vision is reaching everyone in the organization through regular meetings. Slow down and create a process for thoughtfully prioritizing and solving business problems. Align and empower leaders so there is one, consistent voice.


Vanessa: Can you talk about tools to help companies do these things?

Brian: I am using EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) to do this. Like the operating system of a computer, it does not dictate what the company does. However, it adds structure, organization and the required ‘pause’ before changing direction.


Vanessa: As a go-to-market advisor for Appos Advisor, I would like to hear your perspective on how this can improve the end-to-end, go-to-market, value chain to better resonate with customers?

Brian: Companies that want to win at customer service should start with that vision. Turn that vision into culture, remove all roadblocks and unleash the teams. Find and attract likeminded employees that share that culture. Once the entire team is pointed in the same direction customers can’t help but feel it. “Customer-first” is not just a marketing phrase; it affects billing, customer service, HR and every department.


Vanessa: You’ve worked with several organizations that have been able to add the structure and organization needed to drive customer centricity. How is this playing out?

Brian: Companies that align their teams to customer centricity eventually see the ‘ah ha’ moment. They experience cascading changes and see that payback is in more than sales. When employees are not consumed with daily fires, they enjoy their job and recruit their talented friends to the company, further enforcing the culture. These happy, engaged team members have time to plan for next quarter’s activities. Their ability to forecast future problems improves, and now they can see opportunities they did not see before.


Vanessa: Thank you for offering your expertise. Part 2 will feature insights from leadership thought leaders, Frankie McDermott, Chief Grid Officer, SMUD, Kay Fuhrman, Executive Search Partner and Leadership Coach, Heidrick & Struggles, and Dr. Randy Ross, CEO, Remarkable, and Best Selling Author..

Brian: Looking forward to it!



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