Listen or Write the Obituary

In his outstanding blog post titled The Unexpected Demise of Great Brands, Peter Horan outlines the death or near death experiences of once mighty companies such as Kodak, Sears, Digital Equipment Corporation and Circuit City.  Noting that these brands went from “great to gone in less than a generation,” Peter suggests:

“These were major companies with thousands of employees and significant revenues. And yet, in a relatively short time, they slipped off the precipice. DEC was the second-largest computer company in the world as recently as the mid-90s. Circuit City was a fixture on the landscape of many American towns. The cause of death: the unexpected.”

Peter’s observation frames a major challenge for business leaders.  Much of our time is spent managing daily operations, and stewarding improved operational excellence which we hope will have an iterative effect on quality and competitiveness.  Simultaneously, we have to watch for “unexpected” market or competitive forces that may blindside us.  Now, if that isn’t a daunting and depressing characterization of the complexity of modern leadership challenges!

So how do you find your “true north” and execute boldly in a manner that circumvents disaster while staying relevant in the marketplace?  In short, by constantly listening to and observing the customer segments you wish to serve.  Companies with whom I have had the good fortune to work and write about have constantly made course corrections guided by their ever changing customer base.

Starbucks, for example, determined that they had paid too little attention to expressing gratitude for customer loyalty and, as such, needed to devise an engaging loyalty program.  It also heard the need to innovate and leverage it’s cafe experience out to consumer goods categories, while also expanding The Starbucks Experience to collateral beverages such as opening of their new Evolution Fresh juice retail store concept.

What is your customer telling you – through their words and actions?  If you are an indefatigable listener you will likely avert the unexpected and unwelcome demise of Peter Horan’s once great companies!

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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