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Customer Focus Teams

To be more responsive to customer needs, emphasise customer satisfaction, develop closer relationships with their customers and flatten the management structure some companies have adopted Customer Teams or Customer Focus Teams. These are cross-functional, customer focused teams exist to provide customers a ‘one-stop shopping’ service. Teams have complete ownership of their accounts, with each team empowered to decide how to work with each of their customers and bring together each service function such as accounting, sales and service into a single team structure to serve all the needs of the specific customers assigned to them based on a mindset of continuous improvement in customer experience. Teams are empowered to take corrective actions to resolve day-to-day problems and have direct access to information that allows them to plan, control and improve their operations. The teams manage themselves and work within the team is generally allocated on the basis of skills and strengths, rather than just job title. This enables a team to provide fast turnaround on all a customer's issues and concerns. By self managing, like players on a pitch during a team game, the managers’ role becomes that of coach, developing skills and knowledge rather than simply directing and controlling actions. Working in customer focused teams interdependence and joint responsibility for outputs become the goal and thus instead of organizing work traditionally from the top down, reducing processes to individual steps work becomes structured around whole processes. Traditional approaches reduce the required skill at every level of work leading to boring and repetitive tasks, but team based approaches are more likely to consider the fit of team members with the work to be done with those closest to the jobs agreeing the jobs specifications. The advantages of ownership and self management include customers being more comfortable knowing who they will deal with, and teams gaining in-depth knowledge of the needs of each customer because of improved internal communications as team members understand the customer’s expectations and share information, realizing there is no advantage in hoarding knowledge – as their pay will be affected by their customers’ results on their own company’s profitability. Self managing teams do not just happen and they are not ‘an easy answer’. Teams go through several stages on their way to self-management and it can take two or more years to achieve this objective. Comprehensive training in basic management skills such as problem solving and decision making is critical, as is functional cross training so they can manage their own processes. To fully realize their potential, teams need not only to be cross-functional but also need to be managed by entrepreneurial and experienced managers who understand that they exist to provide greater profitability for their company by providing better customer experience to their company’s clients or customers and to this end support and drive team initiatives, including playing an active role in building an ongoing working relationship with the customer’s management. Teams also must not become ‘customer silos’ rather than ‘functional silos’ and must work on sharing policies, systems and processes and people so that the results of ‘winning teams - those that provide increased customer satisfaction together with superior profitability and increasing volume – are quickly tested and replicated elsewhere. To achieve this senior management needs need to fine tune structure, roles, processes and systems to meet the ever-changing needs and increasing complexity of both the customer’s business and their own. Senior management also have to set the tone and reality – teams exist to provide greater profitability for their company by providing better customer experience to their company’s clients or customers. To achieve these corporate goals teams must:

1. Make customer satisfaction their top priority.

2. Have a common understanding of the organization's vision and mission and their role in that.

3. Understand the roles of individual members within the team as well as its role with the organization.

4. Work together to plan, make decisions and resolve differences and build trust.

5. Understand what is and is not possible and walk before they try to run

6. Set goals for continuous improvement in inputs, processes, outputs and measured results. It is in this last area that CRM software such as Customer FOCUS [ http://www.e-crm.co.uk/crm/customer_focus/customer_focus.htm ] can really help.


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