John DiJulius | Customer Experience Blog

The Most Vital Resources for Business Owners
August 4, 2009, 10:57 pm
Filed under: What's the Secret?

Great article from my friend Verne Harnish.  Enjoy…

Verne Harnish photo

Verne Harnish photo

“From day one, what’s been vital to the success of the founders of Linksys, the 2004 Entrepreneurs of the Year? What do they have in common with a practice Michael Dell initiated early on and that continues today? How have they both avoided the number one weakness in growing com­panies – something so simple and inexpensive, yet universally overlooked by most companies? What is the most squandered resource to entrepreneurs?

Everyday customers, competitors, suppliers and employees are providing bits of intelligence useful to busi­ness owners. Customers are talking with your sales and service associates, competitors are sharing their plans with your customers, frontline employees are seeing opportunities and
suppliers are blabbing to everyone! The challenge is systematically collecting this virtually free input and using it to power the business on a daily and weekly basis.

The 9/11 Commission Report poignantly reminds us of the tragedy that can result from not integrating disparate pieces of intelligence. Like the proposed intelligence czar, immediately assign someone accountability for gathering up the feedback swirling all around you – and have this feedback reported weekly. Nothing fancy, just make sure someone is asking your sales­people, customer service people and operations folks what they are hearing each week from the market. Make it part of every­one’s normal weekly reporting.

I recently hosted Victor Tsau, co-founder of the phenomenally successful Linksys, at an executive program for growing firms. Launched in 1988, this leader in home and small business wireless technology was purchased by Cisco last year for $500 million – not a bad payday for Tsau and his equally talented wife and co-founder Janie.

What they have done so consistently from the very begin­ning is systematically capitalize on the hundreds of hints, clues, ideas and concerns of their customers and employees – something they are fanatical about on a daily basis. And they use this feedback to stay roughly five weeks ahead of their com­petition! Not months or years, but merely weeks ahead. Victor was adamant that this was THE source of their con­tinued domination of a very competitive market. Today Linksys analyzes the input from roughly 15,000 technical and customer service calls they receive each day.

Years ago, I worked with a small, local software firm, Deltek, which, like Linksys, shares a common focus on gathering market input daily and weekly with high-profile companies like Dell, Intuit (Quickbooks), Ritz Carlton, Wal-Mart and GE.  Deltek acted on that input immediately and now dominates its industry. When I first met Ken Delaski, founder of Deltek, the firm had less than 100 employees. One of the disci­plines that stuck with me was his insistence that every top leader spend a few hours each week working in the technical support center answering cus­tomer calls – Ken, himself, spends up to a half day there each week.

GE learned from Wal-Mart and implemented what it calls its QMI or Quick Market Intelligence process for formally gathering customer and com­petitor feedback from sales, support and operations people on a weekly basis. It is this data that drives decision-making and strategy within GE.

At Wal-Mart, most of the headquarters empties at the beginning of the week, with leadership spending their time in the field talking with cus­tomers, visiting stores and scouting the competition. Expected back Thursday evening, everyone huddles Friday morning to pour over what has been learned, with changes expected to be exe­cuted by Saturday at noon. Wal-Mart figures this gives the company roughly an eight-day lead on its competitors. Again, you don’t have to be months or years ahead of the market, just days and weeks.

And at the heart of Dell’s and Intuit’s success is this same fanatical focus on gathering customer feedback and acting on it weekly. Michael Dell had his employees log every problem, complaint, concern, issue, idea or suggestion on slips of paper, then turn them into him on Thursdays so he could “read the tea leaves.” Dell held a meeting every Friday morning with the goal of making the company “one percent better each week” using this vital information.

What are you doing to listen to your customers, listen to your market and gather intelligence weekly? There’s an item on my suggested weekly meeting agenda for “customer and employee feedback” – bring this part of the agenda alive. Call one customer a week and listen. Take one employee out to lunch each week and listen. Mystery shop one of your competitors and report what you learned. You need this data to drive your everyday decisions – get it and use it”

~Verne Harnish, “The Growth Guy”

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