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,,I wish they would sell me more!’’

This is a quote from a customer of an international professional services organization we supported a couple of years ago. The CFO, making the statement, explained it by saying ,, … because they know everything about our company, they have all the relevant knowledge in house and I don’t need to worry about forgetting of overlooking things that might be important if they bring it up.’’

Developing customer focus

This quote was done when we conducted a major project for the firm, helping them to develop their customer focus and become more proactive in their client contact. This customer’s quote was formulated in sharp contrast to the images the professionals had created around the aspired change before we started our collaboration with the firm. We were not part of the first attempt to change things….

The negative images the professionals held, were built around concepts of ‘hard selling’, requiring ‘special techniques’ to ‘convince unsuspecting customers to buy stuff they didn’t really want’. And these fee earners - partners included – were used to organization change as a traditional, top-down approach, based on deficit thinking. Basically, this translates into a message that “they were doing something wrong and someone else (the board, helped by some experts) would tell them what to do differently”. So as a result, the people that were supposed to change and develop more customer focus, were showing substantial lack of engagement and serious signs of resistance. And we didn’t had started yet.

Inviting customers to the change

Inviting customers to the process proved to be a highly valuable element in our approach. Based on the ‘whole system in the room’, we engaged as many stakeholders in the process as possible. Both internally as well as externally. We did so by using Appreciative Inquiry to build on the strengths everyone brought to the table. So this customer’s statement was not entirely spontaneous. Although sincere, it was triggered by inquiring about what, to him, was a good example of being serviced with a focus on his company and his issues. And in reply, he invited his advisors to ‘sell him more’.

Next to the numerous experiences being shared between the professionals during internal sessions we facilitated, the contribution made by the invited customers was very strong. Often, organizations feel reluctant in bringing in customers to their change initiatives. Mostly because they’re afraid of getting negative feedback and emphasizing the elements in their services that need improvement or fixing. When done from a more appreciative perspective, that fear soon is proven to be irrelevant. Customers do value your services and expertise. They do like talking to you about their business, their worries and their ambitions. And they do trust you as their advisor. If not, would they even be buying from you?

By inquiring about what customers truly value and tapping into their experience by inquiring about the highlights of being supported and serviced, you can learn how to further grow and expand this. And you will see how engaged your employees and colleagues will be when being invited into a journey of organization development and change that is driven by co-creation and learning from what works well.

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