Change Your Business’ Lifestyle

I recently finished the last of what seemed like endless trips for my promotional book tour. Many people came up and said, “You look good. What did you do to lose all that weight?” For years, I’d tried everything to lose weight. But this time my motivations and actions were different.

My elder brother and business partner, Jeffrey, had an executive physical. He was warned that travel, 16-hour days, stress, restaurant food, and the rest of his lifestyle were taking their toll. I wasn’t far behind, so I took his warning personally and decided to make some lifestyle changes, too.

I ramped up exercise. I’ve always been a fairly healthy, mostly vegetarian eater, but I made a firm decision to cut out as much wheat, dairy, sugar, and processed foods as possible. I’ve lost over 40 pounds since June. Of course, I miss my pizza and pasta — who wouldn’t? But I enjoyed donating all my larger clothes, to charity. I’ve never felt better, and I have more energy and mental clarity. There’s still more to do, but I know I’m on the right path.

So what does this have to do with ROI (define) marketing?

We see companies every day that are, figuratively, in Jeff’s shoes. They work hard, stress out, and are driven to succeed. However, their non-customer-centric diets and lack of relationship-strengthening exercises are showing.

Dell’s symptoms, for example, were illustrated in posts like Jeff Jarvis’ “Dear Mr. Dell” and the blogosphere’s reaction to it, and the widely publicized exploding batteries. Dell got a wakeup call and took its first steps into its new reality. It recognized the symptoms of an illness and decided to commit itself to customer-centricity. It started a corporate blog to mixed reviews. Dell’s starting to take many of the necessary steps to change its lifestyle and culture to be customer centric.

It takes planning, hard work, and time. The customer-centric diet is always a mix of business metrics and a balance of customer centricity. It’s tough to achieve, as it requires the participation of both sides of the brain, as well as the body.

Then there are businesses that are more like me. They know if they continue doing what they’re doing, they’ll wind up in an unenviable position. They try to find solutions to help them make customer centricity part of the operation, such as developing personas and putting policies in place to ensure everyone in the organization speaks with the end customer every day.

By far the largest group of companies are those that just want quick-fix gimmicks. They’ll tell you they’re trying to be healthy. They’d certainly tell you they’d choose fresh fruits and vegetables over a Big Mac, but in reality they order a triple cheeseburger with super-sized fries and a Diet Coke. That equates to dropping a last-minute e-mail discount campaign just to boost this month’s sales.

I’ve never met an executive who doesn’t truly believe her company is customer centric. The proof of whether they are or not is in the actions they take. Take the airline industry. Most airlines believe their touchy-feely customer-centric sounding ads are enough to convince the public, but when you deal with the frontlines you can tell they’ve been ordering that Big Mac. In “The Ultimate Question,” Fred Reichheld explains these are “bad profits.”

Some companies are already healthy, of course, like Intuit and Starbucks. They realize the best ROI comes from continuing to develop a persuasive customer experience. Like so many other successful brands established this past decade, they realize the customer experience drives word of mouth and is stronger than any ad campaign. These new big brands do little advertising; they don’t need to. Even when these companies speak about their metrics, it’s with a customer-centric point of view.

Finally, there are those who ignore all the warning signs. They party hard, work hard, and consume the fat profits that come from exploiting whatever good will their brands retain. They may enjoy the life, but when that figurative heart attack strikes their business, the game’s over. Customers’ ill will rarely allows for resuscitation.

Are you doing enough to keep your company healthy? Is the customer truly the center of your universe? If you’re a marketer, have you handled sales calls, customer service calls, and pressed the flesh regularly? Do you monitor metrics based on the quality of your customers’ persuasive experiences?

Let’s all get into shape, not just for the holiday season but for life.

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