Despite the title of this book, I noticed that the author consistently referenced distinct customer needs that spawned new thinking about employee empowerment and the needed shifts in internal processes and policies to enable employees across the company (not just customer service employees) to really serve customers properly, whatever their role. Another clarification:
"The value zone of industrial companies is deep inside the organization, in the R&D centers and the manufacturing plants. ... The rise of the knowledge economy, however, has changed all that. ... The value zone no longer lays in the technology itself and certainly not in any particular hardware or software technology. Customers could choose among many options, all of which would likely enable them to achieve their goals if implemented well. Something had to be different, then, about the way the technologies were brought together and implemented for each customer. Something more had to be changed about how we delivered our services."
(I recommend reading this book as a great primer for modern thinking and pragmatic methods of customer-centric employee empowerment and engagement.)
This provocative question "Customers 1st or Employees 1st?" was posted on several LinkedIn Groups to gauge prevailing opinions. Those working in service industries or customer service functions leaned toward employees first:
Acknowledgement of customers' life-giving value to an organization expanded to a discussion of customer definition:
Two Sides of the Same Coin
What's the Reality?
Impressive discussion, but what really happens in day-to-day management? When I expanded the question to ask how investors figure into the equation, people responded that theoretically all stakeholders' needs should be balanced, but they acknowledged that's rare in actual practice.
Aligning Interests of All Stakeholder Groups
Thank goodness some companies have figured out how to "actively align the interests of all stakeholder groups (society, partners, investors, customers, employees), not just balance them," explains the authors of book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion & Purpose. "Instead of trading off the interests of one group versus those of another, they have carefully devised business models in which the objectives of each stakeholder can be met simultaneously and are in fact strengthened by other stakeholders. That's why these companies can do seemingly contractor things such as pay high wages, charge low prices, and get higher profitability." Companies classified as ‘firms of endearment' include Amazon, BMW, CarMax, Caterpillar, Commerce Bank, and 22 others (see pages 9-16). "The public ‘firms of endearment' returned 1,020 percent for investors over the 10 years ending June 30, 2006, compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500. … Over a 10-year horizon ‘firms of endearment' outperformed ‘Good to Great' companies by 1,026 percent to 331 percent (a 3-to-1 ratio).
Practical advice for stakeholder alignment is provided in the book Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action. Every company has a traditional power core - engineering, sales, IT, marketing, etc. - and author Jeanne Bliss explains how to diagnose the power core and address the realities of that core's inherent strengths and weaknesses to achieve stronger customer experience and business results simultaneously. Overcoming silo mentality through transparent metrics and effective motivation techniques is essential for any organization's long-term value maximization, for every stakeholder.
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