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john spence module 3 SLP

7 tips to win at Customer Service and Customer Focus

Summary of Senior Leadership Program with executive coach John Spence

john spence module 3 SLP

“Whoever owns the voice of the customer owns the marketplace.” – John Spence

When a landscaping business hired executive coach John Spence to help grow their business, he asked them to put their energy into extreme customer focus. First, he suggested the landscapers ask their 6 top clients (responsible for 35% of their total $70 million revenue) these customer focus questions:

  • Why, specifically do you do business with us? What are the top 3-4 reasons?

“Congrats, there is your marketing,” the author of Awesomely Simple told the landscapers. “If your best customers spend money with you for those specific reasons, it’s likely others will too.”

 John told this week’s Growth Faculty Senior Leadership Program masterclass that he also suggested they ask:

  • What can we do to make it easier to do business with us?
  • What can we do to earn more or all your business?

“Do those things,” John told the landscaping business.

And, finally, he had them ask:

  • What would we have to do for you to fire us straight away?

“Never do those things,” said John.

From that day on, the landscaping business built their marketing around “Here are 4 things we do better than everyone else” and they’ve continued to ask their customers the same customer focus questions every year since. Business is booming.

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Do try this at home

So, why specifically do your customers do business with you? Could you guess at what your best customers might answer, if they were asked this question?

Masterclass delegates gave it a go, and put forward answers like: they know our only agenda is their success, turnaround time, quality, cost, our client service, personal, flexible, responsiveness, availability, reputation, approachable, good service delivery, taking the time to build rapport and truly help regardless of the sales outcome, trust that we will look after them when they need, customer-driven, everything we do is focused on the customer, reduce risk, improve productivity by increasing efficiency, knowledgeable helpful, honest, easy to work with, want to help the business grow, personalised service, integrity, expertise, large stocks, fast lead times, expert advice.

ACTION STEP: John recommended the delegates sit down with their teams and see what they think customers would say about their organisation. Then, find out if your best customers really do say the same thing.

“If your best customers say this is why we buy from you – put it on all your marketing,” says John. “My #1 piece of advice – go ask your customers this question.”


How thoroughly do you listen to your customer?

John Spence says there are many ways to improve your customer focus. Most of them require you to really listen to your customers.

You can do this via surveys and questionnaires, customer interviews, focus groups, social media monitoring, feedback opportunities, customer panels, user activity data analysis, online reviews and ratings, customer support interactions, community forums, net promoter score (NPS) -direct observation, or a customer advisory board.

Around 50% of masterclass delegates said they were doing more than 5 of these things, but the other half were doing fewer than 5.

ACTION STEP: List out how many of these “listening to customer” initiatives are activated in your company.


Does your buyer persona have a name?

The masterclass learned that marketing is primarily about data, and that if you really want to understand your customer it helps to do a buyer persona.

According to Hootsuite, a buyer persona is a detailed description of someone who represents your target audience. This persona is fictional but based on deep research of your existing or desired audience.

“See this person in your mind,” John instructed the masterclass. “Imagine the person and give them a name. It’s a well-researched, educated guess.”

ACTION STEP: Write down your buyer persona’s age, income, ethnicity, education, job role, goals and objectives, company information, industry, values, desires and fears, car they drive, their communication preferences, their role in the purchase process, and if they have a family.

Now you need to back the claims you’re making to that person.

You don’t own your brand, your customers do

John says you can ask anyone on the street about the word that springs to mind when they think of Volvo, and they’ll answer “safety.” For Apple, they might say “innovation.”

The key idea here, he says, is that you don’t own your brand, your customers do.

John asked delegates what words they would love to come out of the mouths of people on the street if they were asked about their organisation?

Delegates said social impact, awesome and smooth digital experience, trusted and caring, fresh and youthful, professional, responsive, easy to do business with, value adders.

John told the masterclass that you can’t just say “we have great customer service” or “we’re professional” or “we’re industry specialists.”

“If you want your brand to be known as industry specialists then you need to win awards, do interviews, prove it,” he said.

ACTION STEP: What specific actions can you take to get the right words out of others’ mouths (when they're asked about your organisation)?

Who do you compete against?

When considering extreme customer focus, you need to understand that you don’t just compete against the other people in your industry, you also compete with all the “substitutes.”

John says that we all now compete against “substitute competitors” like Amazon (or any other good customer service business) because customers now demand “Why can’t I get this when I want it and at the best possible price?”

ACTION STEP: List out your 4-5 direct competitor businesses and try to list another 4-5 who are “substitutes.”

Moments of Truth

Moments of Truth was the English translation of a book written by Swedish businessman Jan Karlsson, former CEO of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS Group).

According to Wikipedia, Jan revolutionised the airline industry through an unrelenting focus on customer service quality.

One of Jan's enduring concepts was that "touch points" between a customer and the company could be deemed “moments of truth” - and he claimed there were 50,000 of them every day in his airline. 

John Spence says all organisations have about four critical moments of truth that have the power to turn customers into either customer evangelists or customer terrorists!

He says for restaurants there might be 170 touch points (car parking is easy or hard, music too low or too loud, chairs too hard or too soft) but 4 critical moments of truth – things that they must do flawlessly – to keep customers happy and coming back.

“Good service, good quality food, reasonable value, cleanliness.” If any one of these things are not present in a restaurant, you lose customers and get poor reviews (no matter how good the parking or music was!). 

ACTION STEP: Write down 10 touch points for your organisation, and the 4 critical moments of truth. 

The 5 keys of referability

To finish up the masterclass on extreme customer focus, John Spence listed out the 5 keys of referability:

1.     Show up on time

2.     Do what you say you will do (keep your promise)

3.     Finish what you start

4.     Always say please and thank you

5.     Always give a little more than they expect (i.e. the 13th muffin/doughnut in the dozen)

He says that if an organisation was able to do those 5 things consistently, they would crush the competition.

ACTION STEP: What’s one thing you can commit to doing? 

See Adam Grant in person in 2024

If you enjoyed John Spence, and you're keen to continue your learning on work-life, work culture, and other important organisational health concepts, don’t miss Adam Grant’s highly-anticipated Australian tour in 2024 ADAM GRANT – LIVE: Unlock Hidden Potential & Transform WorkLife. Tickets are selling fast (Some categories SOLD OUT). 

About Adam Grant

Adam Grant is a renowned organisational psychologist, bestselling author, and global influencer. As Wharton's top-rated professor for seven consecutive years, his expertise in motivation, generosity, original thinking, and rethinking has made him a leading authority in his field.

His five New York Times bestselling books Think Again, Give and Take, Originals, Option B, and Power Moves have resonated with millions of readers in 45 languages. His latest book is Hidden Potential.

With hugely successful TED talks and his TED podcasts WorkLife and ReThinking, plus a substantial social media following and popular monthly newsletter, Adam Grant is one of the world's most inspiring thinkers and speakers.


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