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At this point in the corporate space, it’s a no-brainer to take a customer-centric approach to developing your products or services. It’s all about putting yourself in the customers’ shoes, and imagining what they’d find helpful and intuitive given their preferences and situations. But the way I came to lead my current company taught me that a customer-centric view could also apply to how you structure and operate your entire business. By seeing the organization through your clients’ eyes, you’ll support tremendous long-term growth.
Ignorance was never bliss
Before joining my company, I had the privilege of being one of its top clients. I was interested in what the business was doing and came to know the team well. Leadership took notice, and eventually, they asked me to join the board.
Once I became active in my board role, I discovered something. I’d tapped only about a third of what I could have used from the company when I had been a client. There was so much they could do for me that I hadn’t taken advantage of.
This got me thinking about the concept of cross-selling, and how we could continue pushing to reach our full potential by offering customers even more. We began to think up ways to give the customers a complete picture of the brand from multiple angles. These helped us expand upon our relationships with them.
Tearing down to build back up
When the other board members asked me to be CEO, I didn’t forget that mission. My first goal was simple: make sure clients always had a representative who could give them access to every service. That representative certainly could have expertise in a particular area, but they would understand the big picture of the business and be the clients’ go-to liaison.
Reaching that goal required overcoming two significant hurdles. The first was physical space. Some people on our team were in entirely different buildings. So we rethought our real estate and worked to get everybody in the same location as much as possible. By doing that, we could streamline and work with the clients more cohesively.
Once we could physically work together better, we still had to deal with the growing pains that come with change. People weren’t opposed to the changes. But getting them to think about their roles and resources in new ways required a learning curve. For example, I needed to convince them that we could take everything we knew about getting vehicles between locations and apply it to the last-mile delivery sector. Everyone came on board in a big way. But, we had to learn to communicate differently — not only to each other but also to the clients.
We also put together different initiatives over time, including Elev8 and Innov8. These initiatives focused on helping people see and reach for the next level of results. But at their core, they also served to unify the team around common goals. They allowed people to better understand how everyone needed to contribute to providing the single-path accessibility we wanted for the customer.
The results spoke for themselves. The business went from a top line of $500 million to $2.5 billion in just four years.
Customer-centric structure supports everything else
It’s certainly not every day that somebody goes from being a customer to being a board member to heading an entire business as CEO. But had I not started where I did, I wouldn’t have understood the opportunities for improvement. I wouldn’t have been able to be as empathetic to how much coordination, communication and clarity all help the customer. That deep empathy reassured me that the changes we were making were the right call. You might not fully comprehend what it’s like to be one of your customers. But asking yourself how you can make what you do more visible and cooperatively cross-sell lays the strong foundation you need to move forward competitively.
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