Last week I looked at the dominance of consumer sovereignty (the business philosophy that is based on aligning your business success with meeting the needs and wants of customers at the lowest possible cost) in the retail space, particularly due to the market influence of Amazon (see Consumer Sovereignty As Success Strategy). In that piece, I reflected on the recent call by Donald Berwick to adopt this approach to reengineer the health and human service field: “We are asking the people we serve….what they really need, what they want and what they don’t want and tuning in more to their real needs and desires instead of our habits….”
The piece garnered some great feedback from OPEN MINDS Circle readers, including Jana Spalding, M.D., Program Coordinator at The Peer Career Academy of the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy at Arizona State University, who wrote:
Why not consumer sovereignty because it’s morally the right approach, instead of fiscally a successful strategy? I’m speaking of patients and their families when I say consumers. The reason we’re all in the field, correct?
So much focus on business, on data, on systems design, so little on the people we are here to serve. Am I naïve in wanting the data and systems to revolve around people getting better?
We are not Amazon. We don’t sell and deliver goods. We treat sick people, helping them recover and rebuild their lives, teaching them to thrive despite huge challenges. That’s what we do. Everything else is in service to those simple yet exquisitely elusive goals. Could we focus more on our patients, clients, members and less on the structures we build to serve them? We might then develop the most powerful outcome measure of all: healthy, thriving people.
I think there are two elements to Dr. Spalding’s comment – one is the ethical and moral issue of serving individuals in need of health and human services. The other is a more practical issue – how do we bring a consumer-centric focus to organizations in the field?
On the first issue, much has been written – and debated. But the second issue, the “how to”, I think is much more challenging. I am in the Peter Drucker camp, with the belief that mission-driven organizations need to be marketing driven and create “customers” through good management practices. He encouraged mission-driven organization to quantify what results are desired and ensure that their programs “serve a need” and “create a want.” Peter Drucker is famous for his perspective on profit maximization; he notes that while “profit” is essential to support innovation and marketing actions in both for-profit and tax-exempt organizations, a focus solely on profit maximization can be hazardous to an organization’s health (and the customers they serve).
So what to do to create a mission-drive, consumer-centric, profitable organization? It’s a complex undertaking but I think the “six Ds” outlined in Shep Hyken’s How to Create a Customer-Centric Culture, provide a good summary of the overall approach:
Define it – Organizations can’t adopt a consumer-centric culture and deliver on their consumer expectations if they don’t know first what their consumers want. This is the first step in creating a consumer-centric mission for your organization.
Disseminate it – Once your executive team has decided on a consumer-centric vision that meets the needs of your consumers, that vision must be shared with everyone in the organization. In short, everyone on the team needs to be using the same playbook.
Deploy it – Telling everyone on the team about your consumer-centric mission is only the beginning. Managers have to work to build it into their organization’s operational processes and training. Deploying a consumer-centric orientation is much like operationalizing branding – it needs built into the fabric of your organization so that anyone who joins the team can immediately understand the organization’s commitment to the consumer experience.
Demonstrate it – This is where words become actions. Once everyone on the team understands the commitment to the consumer experience, it needs to be part of every team member’s day-to-day actions. And, this is where leadership comes in – leaders need to be the living example of that commitment to the consumer experience.
Defend it – Nothing kills a strategy (any strategy) like implementing a plan and then forgetting about it. Managers need to make sure that the plans and the actions that are needed to provide an excellent consumer experience actually happen – and keep the initiative on track. To do this, great implementation management and on-going metrics-based management are key.
Delight in it! – Buy-in from your entire organization is essential when it comes to building a sustainable consumer-centric strategy. Take the time to recognize the team members who contribute to the great consumer experience – and publicize the performance data and individual consumer experiences.
For more on building your organization’s consumer sovereignty, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- No Customers Without Customer Service
- CRM As Customer Service Strategy
- How To Win (Or Lose) Online
- 5 Steps To Improve Your Consumer Performance Rankings
- Consumer Focused? Think Mass Customization
And as you think about your plans to build a more consumer-sovereign organization, remember the words of Peter Drucker, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”