Creating a Customer Service Oriented Organization: 3 Lessons from the Walmart Approach to Customer Satisfaction

March 27, 2013

Creating a Customer Service Oriented Organization

Putting the Customer First: Creating a Customer Service Oriented Organization

At Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, there is one quote from its founder Sam Walton that states the company’s core mission:

There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

That attitude towards pleasing the customer is embodied in every aspect of the organization. Measuring, assessing, and improving customer satisfaction is a core element of Walmart’s internal conversation on how to grow as a business. In practice, customers are asked to take a survey that gives them the opportunity to give their feedback. Their responses are used to prioritize improvements and help them understand the core issues the customers are facing.

3 Lessons from the Walmart Approach to Customer Satisfaction

1) Have the mandate for customer service come from the top

In the Walmart example, the mandate came from the founder of the company. The “Customer Comes First” mandate has continued on past Sam Walton and is fully integrated into the culture of the company.
In the tech SaaS space, the founder of a company has a unique opportunity to set the tone for the organization. Incorporate the need for delivering a superior customer service experience in your firm’s values and goals.
At OpenView, our stated mission is to be the best firm in the industry for our stakeholders. We also have a set of stated priorities, values, and a core vision. We regularly review all of our outputs, feedback, and incoming work against these priorities and values.
We also collect feedback from our portfolio companies after each project, to learn how we can improve.

2) “Measure, Distribute, Improve, and Measure Again”

First, measure the customer’s satisfaction. You can do this via a simple online survey, or even a phone call. Collecting feedback doesn’t have to be a static process, you can include feedback links in your customer service emails, too. Automotive dealerships collect feedback after every service, since it is their principal driver of revenue.
Distribution of feedback is just as important as measuring it. While it’s important for the executive team to know the results, it is equally important for the operations teams to know the state of their customer base. They are the employees who have the most touch points with the customer, and can lend a qualitative color to the data you receive.
One pitfall organizations fall into is becoming fixated by the data they receive from the surveys, without getting the rest of the story from the operations team. That can often pit the Managers vs. Operations and undermine the whole initiative.
Plan your improvements based on the feedback. Once you’ve launched a performance improvement initiative, continue to solicit feedback. Asking for feedback after every customer service interaction is a very good way of tracking whether your changes are in fact working.

3) Understand when to “Let a Customer Go”

There is always at least one customer that becomes a menace to your customer service teams. They are rude, needy, and full of criticism despite your best efforts. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and stop going the extra mile for them. I know this sounds contradictory since I’ve spent most of this blog post arguing for the need to delight the customer.
But it comes down to efficiency. You can’t be all things to everyone. And allowing a single customer to become a significant burden on your organization is an impediment you can’t afford, especially at the expansion stage.
Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, gave a good example of this. He had received a scathing letter from one disappointed traveler. After making some inquiries, he realized no matter what he did, this particular person wasn’t going to cut them much slack. He wrote back with a simple note: “We Will Miss You.”
I hope these tactics prove useful in creating an organization that is customer focused, in a collaborative way that includes everyone. Getting operations/client service teams on board is crucial to your success.

Corporate Strategy, Sales Operations

Sudip is in charge of Corporate Strategy, Sales Operations at <a href="">Alegeus Technologies</a>. Previously, he worked at OpenView from 2012 until 2014 with portfolio companies to provide insights on the markets they operate in, their customers, and drive development of business strategies.