BUSINESS BEYOND PROFIT: BUILDING A CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE AND SUPERIOR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
By Willis Amach
We are living in unprecedented times indeed. So much is happening so fast in the world today. The business world has witnessed so much turmoil largely due to rapid technological advancements that have ushered in a borderless world. Traditional business models have been effectively rendered redundant by new inventions and innovations. Many givens of yesteryears are no longer guaranteed. Every business must literally fight for its space in the market today. The risk of going out of business or a forceful take over by rivals is now much more pronounced than ever before.
Leading in such times presents a real formidable challenge to every business leader; not that leading has been any easier in the past. Businesses today have to deal with among other things: highly demanding and more informed customers who are spoilt for choices; slowed down business growth due to cut-throat competition; impatient and un-forgiving shareholders who accepts nothing less than the promised performances; increasingly controlling and sometimes ruthless governments whose policies essentially limit what a business can legally do; not to mention the ever present and increasing business risks made worse by technology explosion.
To remain afloat and win in such circumstances requires that leaders must not only strike a healthy balance in meeting the competing needs and interests of all these stakeholders, but also build internal capacity to weather these storms and achieve its vision and mission. Certain parameters are clearly outside the control of a corporation or a business entity such as the actions of the competitors and government policies; other parameters are within the control of a business.
The good news is that the fundamentals of success in every venture where humans are involved are still basically the same. All human beings want to feel valued and cared for—nothing less nothing more. We aver that building a successful business will only be possible and sustainable when these fundamental needs are met and exceeded. This can only happen when the company has the ‘right software’ to fuel peoples’ commitment to the company mission and drive performance. This same ‘software’ is what wins the customers’ loyalty and endears them to the business entity for the long haul. This right soft is the culture of excellence and superior customer experience. This is a key success parameter clearly within the control of a business.
Businesses normally aspire to be successful and build lasting legacies. They hire their ‘winning teams’ and put the right strategies in place and invest tons of resources but somehow still come short of their performance promises. Whenever such companies announce their end year shortfalls, the investors dump their stocks and enormous market value is wiped out. The managers and employees become demoralized, and increasingly boards are forced to fire the CEOs.
I submit to you that the missing link between the leadership aspiration of leading great companies with superior business performances and lasting legacies on the one hand and their less than impressive performance records on the other hand, can be described in one word—CULTURE and more specifically, organizational culture of excellence and superior customer experience. A company culture is what a strong foundation is to a skyscraper; if there is no strong foundation in place, you won’t achieve your performance goals—no matter how much time and money you spend.
The leadership of the organization by the very vantage position that they hold is directly responsible for creating, shaping and upholding the organization’s corporate culture. The corporate culture in turn fuels the spirit of executing the corporate strategy. In other words, leadership, culture and strategy are the triumvirate that together steer the organization towards excellence. Much like any triumvirate, being in sync is necessary for an effective working relationship.
Organizational culture serves as the organic habitat in which the company strategy either thrives or dies. Culture of excellence provides the fuel for the successful strategy implementation, as it rallies the minds and hearts of the team in pursuit of the company mission. No matter how good a company strategy is, its execution inevitably fails when it is not in sync with the company culture. Culture always trumps strategy not in sync with it. Just like legendary business consultant and author Peter F Drucker said:
‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’—Peter Drucker
Having the culture of excellence and superior customer experience is so critical and the business leader alongside the entire leadership teams is directly responsible for building the same. Suffice to say that ‘when you build a culture of excellence, you create organizational capacity and a structure that empowers, focuses and engages employees. You create the environment for offering superior customer experience as the culture puts the customer at the centre of your business strategies, decisions and actions; this in turn creates a legion of evangelical customers who are more delighted to ‘convert’ many more customers to join their company.
The impact of culture of excellence in fueling business growth has been recognized by leading brands such as Zappos—a US based online shoe and clothing retailer, and Amazon. The long serving Chief Executive of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, had this to say about culture:
‘Our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand or empowering passionate employees and customers, will happen on its own.’—Tony Hsieh
I have been privileged to work with a company that is among the best in its industry and another one that operates at the other end of the spectrum. The principles of culture of excellence and superior customer experience were practiced in the former albeit in part while in the latter one, these principles were largely ignored or given lip-service at best; in the former company there was a meteoric rise from a little known ‘village’ financial player to an international financial leader and a pace setter in the banking industry with a commanding presence in six countries, in less than ten years; while in the latter there were missed growth opportunities, lost customer goodwill and attrition of great talent, as the best employees quit to look for better opportunities in the competition.
Most business executives are overly concerned about the bottom line. They spend the last ounce of their energy in the wild chase for hyper growth and super profits. This is done without considering the goals that matter for the long term business growth and sustainable profitability. Profit alone is too temporary to guide a business by. Research and experience has shown time and again that inordinate pre-occupation with profitability at the expense of any other considerations is always counter-productive. It is both selfish and short sighted. It does not excite the employees who are tasked with achieving it. The customers equally do not feel a moral obligation to patronize a business with a myopic mission like lining the pockets of the business owners with more dollars. The goals that matter in a business are:
- Delivering great customer experience
- Creating products that are actually good for the customers
- Having a great work environment and a happy team
- Getting better and raising the bar every year and
- Enjoying the work in the process
If all the above things are done well, the numbers will look after themselves. Stretch targets don’t bring the numbers; do the great work and let the number land where it does. If you fixate on quarterly numbers, you and your team are likely to experience severe burnout trying to beat your own past record every time. It will also lead to a tempting compromise in product quality, ethics and decency.
Don’t get me wrong, this article is not advocating for businesses to have no profit or revenue goals, far from it. What the article seeks to address is the inordinate pre-occupation with profitability at the expense of any other considerations, the mentality of being fixated with revenue targets which consequently puts employees under great pressure to up-sell, cross-sell and out-sell, even ultimately sell themselves.
This ought not to be the case. You can win this war of customer acquisition and retention by simply focusing on building a culture of excellence and superior customer experience. Your internal customers who happen to be your employees will have a full buy in in the company mission and as such, will give their all to the cause—strength, blood and sweat. The result of this is a shot to greatness.
The writer is an author and a partner at Hezma Ventures Consulting—a Management and Leadership consultancy based in Bungoma. He can be reached via email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org