Lately, the question of where the Customer Management function should be within the company organization is very fashionable. Traditionally it has been included in the Marketing or Operations Areas, where it was at the same level of sales, product or distribution management. But in recent years has been taking shape a change and some companies dare to raise it to the Executive Committee level, and sit the client to the “big round table” where top management take and discuss the strategic decisions of the company.
I think this last trend is the most appropriate. Times of uncontrolled growth and conquest of market share have ended forever in most traditional markets. Today what matters is to manage an organic growth in which the importance of not losing customers is as relevant as winning them (or even more). Companies increasingly have to look at what they have and how they manage it instead of giving priority to a permanent conquest of new lands without paying much attention to the one they leave behind.
Customers long ago exercise their purchasing power without any fuss and exit barriers (both psychological and operational) are increasingly low. Competition is no longer just local, but in many markets it begins to be global, allowing buyers to access suppliers in all parts of the world.
The client must be seated in the Executive Committee. The strategic decisions that are taken in it deserve to take into account his direct opinion. This is a powerful message towards the market the company is competing in, but above all towards the organization itself. Staff has to see that the importance that so easily we keep saying about the customer being the real core of the company activity that you have to take into account in all decisions, is a reality that has its organizational reflection. And I do not say it for purely hierarchical questions, but for the explicit visualisation of Customer Management at first level. And we have to do this to avoid the biases and contradictions that could be in someone with the responsibility to launch a product quickly but also that is understandable by the customer and easy to hire, support and bill. Or someone who has to get sales and probably is not focused enough in the provision process, or the information that is given to the customer by the sales people.
Within the decisions made in a company, all of us are continually making “trade offs”. It is in those situations in which the voice of the client has to be heard stronger, at the same level at least as finance, products or technology. And I do not say that it has to be played in a “naive” way, but with a business sense. Whoever brings it to that table must have global knowledge and vision, and be able to set red lines, but also provide solutions to meet the company’s business objectives without harming the client. This confrontation between objectives and clients could be incredible, but most of the times, when the vision and short-term needs take center stage in the discussion, it happens. And we must be able to ponder that short-term with the potential damage that can be done to the company, its perception in the market or its financial results in the medium and long term. There is always a solution to manage it, and who can best provide it in that forum is the person closest to the customer, the person who knows the operation and its consequences, but also has in mind the service strategy within the global company offer.
So let’s get the customer to the round table of our company. Let’s reposition our company to our customers and send a powerful message to the entire organization.