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Has The Customer Signed Off On This?

Did you run that by Legal for approval?

When will you have the OK from Compliance?

How early did you get Finance involved?

Having spent 10+ years on both the agency and the client sides, I’ve heard — and often asked — those questions countless times. These are not casual, cavalier questions either. They are urgent questions, the answers to which carry a lot of weight. Most importantly, they are requirements.

With customer-centricity as popular a concept as ever, I wonder: What would happen if it was a requirement to get customer sign-off on your strategies, products, services, value propositions, experiences, and communications? Getting Legal, Compliance, and Finance involved and on board increases your chances of avoiding a problem — namely, losing. Their review and final blessing will always be embedded into our processes as a matter of course; it’s vitally important. But, what if getting customer sign-off was just as important and automatic? Couldn’t we further increase our chances of succeeding, of winning, if we engaged customers early and often, designing them into our operations, our culture, our processes, our objectives, our strategic development and execution?

Company leaders usually have the best of intentions when it comes to understanding their customers. We see and hear about how those good intentions are manifested all the time. The CEO who drops in to visit the local branch or store for a look at what’s happening on the frontline. The Executive Leadership Team that books an hour to run customer service call monitoring sessions. The CMO who keeps an eye on the company’s social media mentions. Startled shoppers queried by guys in suits. Leaders and execs want to do right by their customers, and they may think these episodic customer engagements are enough, or that these interactions are deeper than perhaps they really are. As such, they may think digging deeper, earlier, and on an ongoing basis is too challenging or simply not worth the extra cost or effort.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. In today’s chaotic, tech-disrupted marketplace, the urgency (and value) is real for companies to change how their business operates by consulting with their customers. We’re working with clients right now to make customer engagement easier, accessible, and scalable. Facilitated workshops where executives and customers join forces to co-create new products, services, and experiences. Online innovation and insights communities that augment product development, innovation, and marketing teams by enabling companies to “hire” hundreds of their customers and prospects to drive incremental growth. Customer “immersion rooms”: physical spaces that bring the customer experience to life in a very memorable, visceral way – and right down the hall from your office. Photo films, audio diaries, emails, interviews, and stories that tangibly bring the richness of a person’s life into focus. When insight like this gets socialized across an organization, it galvanizes action. It inspires everyone to think and act differently, rallying around the customer to better serve – and grow with – them.

It’s been well-documented how over-marketed (and overwhelmed) many customers feel nowadays. (You yourself have probably felt this way at some point.) But, has anyone ever heard about customers feeling over-engaged or over-listened-to? Imagine what would happen if, inside the conference rooms and hallways of agencies and client-side companies alike, we started to hear more questions like:

Did our customers sign off on this new strategy?

How early did you get our customers engaged in the product development process?

Can you make sure you have customer approval before you show the new campaign to me?

Demonstrating proof of customer collaboration, alignment, and buy-in should be as vital and as much of a requirement as “getting the OK from Legal.” We can do this. It’s the right thing to do for customers and for business.

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