3) Customers: Make them the centre of your decision-making Another key lesson from my ten years in business is that the very best we have worked with or studied, are customer-centric. That does not mean offering a slogan that says “customer first” somewhere in an important-looking document. Nor does it mean the creation of a good customer services department. It means the company can organise and operate so as to think about, anticipate, listen and respond to customer needs and trends. The leaders in charge spend time with customers, whether it be Harley Davidson managers spending time riding with HOGs (the Harley Owners Group), the CEO of Procter & Gamble visiting consumers’ homes or John Lewis senior partners having “buddy stores”. They prioritise strategies and investment around the customer experience, often taking bold decisions that demonstrate their commitment: O2’s transformative use of its sponsorship with AEG of the O2 Arena, Amazon investing in drones, Premier Inn investing in premium beds and modern air-con in all its rooms, are just a few of the many examples of businesses showing genuine commitment to customers. Every great business understands this basic rule, eloquently stated by Joseph Cyril Bamford, the founder of JCB: “Customers can live without us, we can’t live without our customers”. No customers mean no cash. 4) Cause: Have one You need a higher purpose to inspire people in your business – that’s a big lesson learned from the past ten years. I don’t mean a CSR programme. I mean a sense that you are there to provide something of value that helps your customer and the world in which they live. And that sense of purpose has to be reflected in the way you handle your relationships with all stakeholders, including your suppliers as well of course as your own people. The very best purposes have a congruence between customer delight and societal insight. Like Lego and its purpose to invent the “future of play” or IBM using “information technologies to benefit mankind”. It does not have to be explicitly environmental, or democratising or quasi-political, it can be implicitly human, serving and caring just by its desire to do something for someone else i.e. your customer. Make your guests feel brilliant by guaranteeing a great night’s sleep, may not sound like it’s changing the world but it’s making the people who stay and work at Premier Inn feel happier and that is a good thing in life. So, these were the four insights gained from ten years in business. But the greatest of these is…well they are all equally important because no business can be successful if it is not focused on all four. But the most important place to start is with your purpose, your cause. The logic of your business flows from the reason you started it in the first place. The why you get up and go to work, the why you do a great job, the why you build a great culture and the why you make sure you are earning and keeping the cash you need to grow, invest in and yes reward yourself and your people. Start with your Purpose, and stay On Purpose. That’s what I’ve learnt. It might not sound much but it contains the wisdom of a world of business. Andy Milligan is founder of The Caffeine Partnership, a leading international brand and business consultant acknowledged as an expert on all areas of brand creation.
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