Being out of touch with customers is not an ailment that only afflicts mature organizations. It can happen to any company, any size, and at any stage. Sure, big company warning signs are easy; bloated departments, managers with one or two employees, endless meetings focused on internal—or worse yet—political issues. But startups aren’t immune either. Think about what you’re really hearing when the entrepreneur-next-door says something like, “We have zero competition,” or “We have built-in virality.” Equally ominous, is the claim, “We target everyone.”
There are a gazillion reasons why companies don’t establish proper contact, or lose touch, with their customers. One of the most overlooked causes I’ve seen is the way some organizations are designed. Whether unintentional or not, the organization itself can separate those on the inside (coworkers) from those on the outside (customers).
To avoid this I advocate three things in organizational design.
- Every employee should be no more than one degree of separation from the customer. This means they can get their hands on customer information directly or, with minimal assistance, be in direct conversation with customers.
- No employee has only internal customers. Treating your fellow employees the way you would treat your best customer is a powerful metaphor but it doesn’t substitute for actual outside customers. Everyone in the organization must feel personal responsibility for real customers.
- Executives, at all levels, should sponsor at least one outside customer. Like an air vent, a lasting relationship with even a single important customer is an invaluable conduit from the outside that continually refreshes the inside.
We already know that the business of running a business is complex and all consuming so let’s design customer contact into the structure of your business right from the beginning.
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