Tightrope Leadership

Published on December 2, 2003

Organizations and individuals often have to make difficult decisions while walking the tightrope of success, decisions that can easily throw them off that path.

For example, Dell Computer and ExxonMobil have successfully built overseas call centers in India to handle many of their support calls. The reason is quite simple. The significant savings in labor costs and the ability to maintain a seamless operation that does not interfere with customer service adds up to a profitable decision.

But at what point does this equation not hold true? Dell found this out recently when it started receiving complaints from their corporate customers who claim they needed more technical solutions – solutions that required support in their local market. Dell responded to their customers feedback by simply flipping a switch re-routing many of it’s corporate technical calls to local support centers.

All of us struggle on a daily basis with the equation of how much of our limited resources we should dedicate to support and satisfy our customers. Resources that if targeted elsewhere may result in additional sales. The key to answering this question is simple. If you are doing things that at the end of the day are highly productive for you, yet not supportive of your highest producing customers, a call to change is in order. Do you hear the signals your customers are giving you? Or, are you blind to the signs and just focused on the strategies geared towards your bottom line?

As we prepare for 2004 and come up with our personal and organizational operating plans, you may want to take a moment and “shop” your services. Pretend you are a customer and call your company to see how the process works. Are the call menus too long? Are the instructions easy? How long does it take to get a call or question answered? If you are not satisfied with the results, why should your customer feel any differently?

Take this a step further and quiz your customers to see if the level of service you are providing is strong enough to meet their needs in 2004. What areas may be lacking that you need to address? Remember, any weakness you may have in servicing your customer automatically becomes the door opener for your competition.

Finally, the Dell example also teaches us the value of flexibility. How flexible are you to respond to customer needs? In today’s market, salespeople and leaders who are flexible to meet the needs of their customers are going to outperform those who are not as flexible.

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