When organizational leaders are asked about their most valuable asset, they are most likely to say that their customers or employees, or both, are the most valuable. But recent studies show that only 54% of executives have a concrete strategy to build one-on-one customer and employee relationships. It’s not easy to go from awareness to execution, but here are four high level tips for leaders who want to create a value strategy.
First, look at yourself and your own interpersonal skills. No matter how good you think your skills are, they can always use some improvement. And before a discussion of how to improve interpersonal skills, remember that the skills you display will be the ones that filter down into the organization – and out to its customers. To begin with, practice relationship building in your own areas. Leaders sometimes have “built-in” relationships with people in the organization because neither has a choice. But your leadership will excel if you find a way to build real relationships with all of those people. A much harder, but highly effective, method is to ask for feedback from colleagues, other leaders, and yes, even direct and indirect reports. And don’t just store the data you obtain – use it to make improvements.
On the organizational level, analyze your own style of doing business. Do you smile and make eye contact? Do you attempt to avoid argument at any cost? Are you in the habit of using customer and employee names, regardless of their level in the organization or the customer hierarchy? Are you a “proactive responder” or a “reactor”? Do you always make the attempt to understand the needs and motivations of others, whether they are customers or employees? Once you start practicing these things, you can “push them down” into the organization – and make them part of the perceived value of the organization both internally and externally.
Second, learn to develop relationships quickly and show their importance. Developing relationships quickly means that you have to find a way to interact with anyone in any circumstance. This becomes harder for leaders because they are not part of the “every day grind” in an organization. Find your common points, find a way to interact with the person (customer or employee), and start building a relationship right away. This will make you appear visible and accessible instead of high in a tower.
Along those lines, learn to enunciate the importance of customers and employees as people and relationships, versus as simply a transaction or a job function. Be aware that customer transactions may start small and grow larger over time as you build your relationship. This also applies to employee relationships; an employee may currently have a small job function, but his or her bigger skills may lead to bigger responsibility and impact. The old “4 P’s” of marketing still apply to organizations both internally and externally, but remember to add “people” to product, price, placement, and promotion.
Third, look for what Stephen Covey would call the “Win/Win Relationship” in both customers and employees. According to Covey, the “Win/Win” formula means that “all solutions are mutually beneficial” and “mutually satisfying”. And you, as a leader, must look for ways to make that win / win happen with both your customers and your employees. Look for the “long term” in both: a small business starts small but may grow into a highly profitable customer, just as an employee with a small responsibility and high loyalty can become the organization’s best asset.
Finally, create customer sales and employee retention through service and loyalty. This is easier said than done, but look at it from the high level. How can you increase sales through service and loyalty? One of the first things you can do is measure service levels – and ask customers to rate those levels. Find out what they felt like they missed. Discover how many products or services each of your customers has – and why they haven’t moved on to a broader range of products, services, or visits. Once customers find out you’re interested, they are more likely to become more loyal over time – especially if you do something with their feedback. With employees, create loyalty, and then value, through appreciation, empathy, and an understanding of motivations and drivers.
This is by no means a complete list of ways to create value with customers and employees, but it is a good place to start. Make 2009 the year you focus on value – both internally and externally.
Copyright Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.