Amazon recently surprised much of the retail sector when it opened its first ‘4-Star’ store in New York. The new venture is a brick-and-mortar outlet, selling only the online giant’s most popular products.
Its opening has been viewed by some as an acceptance that, for all of Amazon’s success online, it has still not found a way to match the serendipitous discovery of products that happens in an actual shop. Of course, another way to view this development would be to view it as a dominant, highly-successful retailer extending another very lucrative arm of its already considerable business.
Amazon has already found a winning formula for its end-to-end customer journey. It has an ultra-efficient online storefront that is expert at guiding people towards fast, simple purchases. And it has a streamlined supply chain set-up that means customers receive their goods exactly when they expect to.
Its customer service might not sparkle with the smiles and high praise of other brands, but it has made a success of impressing the reams of customers who simply want their purchases to be cheap and quickly in their hands.
The idea of focusing on outcomes is one that many businesses would do well to think more about. When we talk of a concept like “customer happiness”, we might often gravitate to thinking of an image of a customer representative providing quality service to a person in front of them or on the end of a phone.
Great customer experiences such as these are certainly important, but I would suggest that customer happiness is built on far larger foundations than just “service with a smile”.
Great service — whether you are talking about external customers or internal stakeholders — is more than simply the concern of customer service representatives and their managers. It is as much a mindset, as it is a specific skillset. And it is a mindset that organisational leaders should be fostering throughout their organisation.
In practice, this means that employees need to understand the aim of the business — understanding who is it that the organisation is attempting to satisfy and what the intended outcome should be. Then, they need to be focused on actually achieving that aim, no matter the individual role they play in the organisation.
This is important because, no matter how flat your organisational structure is, and regardless of how interlinked different departments are, there will nearly always be a degree of siloed thinking around what is, and what isn’t, an individual’s responsibility.
We can all probably think of a time when we requested something of a colleague, only to be told that “That isn’t my role…”. While such a response might indeed be true — at least from a strict interpretation of a job description — it is also entirely unhelpful from the perspective of satisfying your end customer.
If, in such a situation, a colleague instead has a mindset focused on the business’ outcome, they could direct you on to a person who can help, or resolve the issue based on their own experience and knowledge. The result is a customer who leaves satisfied in a more timely and efficient manner.
At the end of the day, this is what your business should be concerned with.
Embedding this outcome-focused thinking can be a challenge, of course. It faces resistance because many will view it as broadening the scope of their own roles. Employees who work very hard can worry they will take on the responsibility of underperforming colleagues, and those underperforming colleagues might be concerned they will have less room to hide.
One way to battle through this resistance is to provide opportunities for employees to practice, and to see the personal and business benefits they can achieve. Initiatives aimed at making the leap between different departments — such as cross-departmental projects that draw on the knowledge of people across the business — can be great for demonstrating to employees how much more can be achieved when a wider pool of talent contributes. Not only will they see how much more customer satisfaction improves, but they may well find that they benefit personally. They gain the opportunity to shine in new areas. They get the chance to show their previously-hidden talents.
They add new lines to their CVs, demonstrating greater breadth of experience.
Focusing on business outcomes and prioritising customer happiness as a first, second, and third priority is no simple feat. But it is also a worthy priority for any business that wants the ability to, like Amazon, push its business in new directions, confident its fundamentals will carry along many customers for the ride.
(Ahmad Badr is CEO of Knowledge Group.)