Are Your Employees Connected to Customers?

By: Gregory A. Janicik

Many companies want employees to maintain an external focus so that they stay connected to customers’ needs or preferences. For marketing and sales people, this is automatic given their role responsibilities. What about employees who don’t have natural interactions with customers? Too often, these individuals—whether they are from manufacturing, finance, or other support functions—become overly focused on internal problems and issues. They fail to understand the importance of staying current on customer or industry trends.

This internal focus can naturally evolve into an aspect of the operating culture—how work gets done inside the organization. An internally focused operating culture limits opportunities for creativity and innovation, as new ideas typically come from the external world outside of an organization. It also can be demotivating, as employees don’t fully understand how their work impacts customers.

Leaders can play a critical role in shifting the operating culture from an internal focus to an external one. One tried and true method of getting employees more externally focused is to connect them with customers. There is a great deal of evidence that employees become more motivated and engaged at work when they hear how the company’s products/services help or delight customers.

Leaders can also ensure that employees get out into the field to connect with customers on a regular basis, or get exposed to feedback from customers in various formats. However, that’s a one-way perspective. Leaders in noncommercial-facing functions should consider the other direction. Specifically, is there a way to get customers involved with their work or have them provide input on specific challenges?

Inviting co-creation from customers, even on internal problems, demonstrates a passion for partnership that will deepen the trust and loyalty displayed by customers. More importantly, it can spark new ideas and ways of thinking that shift the operating culture. Over time, it becomes easier to adapt to new ideas as employees become more creative on their own or in partnership with input from customers.

Establishing more connectivity with customers for all employees is not just good for finding creative solutions that actually benefit customers—it can lead to a more adaptable operating culture. Over time, as employees’ external focus becomes solidified as part of the culture, it becomes natural for employees to look over the horizon to consider what’s coming—from technological advances to shifts in the market that will force them to question what they are doing and how they are doing it. This future-oriented, external perspective ultimately leads to greater adaptability across the organization.

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