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Yet Another Type of Value Customers Can Provide

Posted by Bill Lee on June 15, 2011 at 03:48 PM

Readers of this blog know that customers can create value for firms well beyond their purchases. They can market for you, sell for you, spread positive word of mouth, provide referrals, help build customer communities, contribute valuable input into product development and strategy, and more. This month's Harvard Business Review shows how customers can provide yet another type of value: motivating employees. 

Customers are much more motivational to employees than their managers or firm leaders. Radiologists shown just a photo of patient they'd never met were inspired to read X-rays more carefully and accurately. A simple picture was enough to remind them of the importance of their work. College fund raisers were inpsired to increase their efforts upon meeting a student who'd received a scholarship due to their efforts. Wells FArgo Bank, managers show videos of customers who were saved from severe debt by the bank's low interest loans--all of these, vivid reminders of the ultimate purpose of what they do. 

Think your business is too mundane for such an exercise. Jack Stack, CEO of Springfield Remanufacturing Company (now SRC Holdings), which was famous for rapid growth of firm in Missouri that remanufactured engines, spurred his employees by distributing sales and promotional materials to their assembly lines, showing that the engines they were building powered the trucks and tractors that worked farms and transported goods that put food on families' tables. Employees began to swell with pride. Later Stack learned that one of his workers had been out with his son and saw a truck from one of the brochures. The worker said, "Your daddy built that engine." 

THe HBR research also showed that firm leaders who try to inspire the troops are much less successful. Conclusion: to motivate and inspire better performance, forget the speeches. Bring in people or families that have benefitted from what your employees do.

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