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December 2017
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Accountability: Sharpening your competitive edge to develop loyal customers
By Walt Zeglinski

In today’s highly competitive business climate, most successful companies are finding new and creative ways to win business.  By building customer-centric business plans and increasing their commitment to company-wide execution, they’ve managed to succeed in a turbulent economy.  Most of all, they’ve discovered they simply cannot afford to make mistakes in their customer relationships. They strive to “out-execute” the competition in every aspect of their business that touches the customer.  These organizations understand that the key to creating loyal customers is building a culture of accountability.

Most of us have heard the stories of accountable employees who have made a difference – the 911 dispatcher that stays on the phone and calms a caller until the EMT arrives or the jewelry clerk in a department store that helps a customer to pick out a new dress.  Unfortunately, there are far more employees that do not share this commitment to customer accountability and, as a result, fail to deliver on their goals.

Organizations that foster accountability run like well-oiled machines, as people and processes work in lock-step to achieve more predictable and profitable results.  I’m not referring to the sort of organizational accountability that focuses on catching employees doing something wrong. Rather the kind of positive accountability that is combined with high levels of employee satisfaction – as individuals are enabled with the right resources and management support.  From the outside, these organizations appear to have some magical formula that helps them win even as others are struggling to stay in the race.  We have found three keys to creating a culture of customer accountability – exceptional leaders, process discipline, and workforce engagement. 

Setting a Direction

Establishing a customer-accountable culture starts with developing exceptional leaders.  They are the navigation system that guides employees toward the finish line. These leaders have a foundation of management expertise that can maximize the talents of their teams as they keep them focused on their customers. Fifty years of client research has led us to six job functions that are critical for exceptional leaders – communicating, planning, organizing, controlling, staffing, and leading.  Leaders who are effective at these functions consistently elevate the performance of their people. 

Transforming leaders from average to exceptional requires they get beyond their perceptions of their abilities.  Managers who understand the impact they have on others have been given a unique gift.  In our experience, “feeling” the perspective of others is a significant catalyst for getting managers committed to improving their skills, attitudes and beliefs. Gaining this realistic perspective can be transformational. Unfortunately, many managers subscribe to the adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, content to continue with the management practices that have allowed them to be successful in the past. But when market conditions are constantly in flux, leaders must be exceptional.  They must find new and better ways to improve performance. 

Doing Things Right

Process discipline is the fuel that accelerates customer accountability.  Leaders who hold their teams accountable for exceeding customer expectations establish a systematic approach to monitoring progress and taking corrective action.  This typically involves a regular, top-down examination of goals and tasks, enabled by a plan for overcoming obstacles to success.  But a consistent methodology is not enough if there is not a clear understanding of the importance of customers to accomplishing key business drivers. Identifying and planning to execute on these “vital few” is the key to energizing employee commitment to individual, departmental and corporate goals. 

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