Introduction – Lead With Your Customer, 2nd Edition:Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence


D o you know that disturbing déjà vu moment? It’s the one that comes when:

• Employees are really busy, even task focused, but results aren’t improving.

• You feel as if 20 percent of your staff are doing 80 percent of the work.

• Momentum appears to be on the horizon, then someone introduces a re-org.

• You go through another crazy cycle of having your budget mindlessly slashed, with little strategic thought.

• New initiatives get introduced, but it seems as if it’s still the same “flavor of the month” as the dozen before them.

That’s what compelled us to write the first edition of Lead With Your Customer—to address these very issues that our clients shared when we’d meet them. They’d describe a kind of Groundhog Day of organizational mediocrity. It didn’t matter if they were in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. It could be a big organization, or a fairly small one. Retail, government, healthcare, finance—it was the same story. These struggling organizations kept doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. And, sadly, the results didn’t come.

We thought we could help—by sharing the behind-the-scenes solutions from successful organizations that consistently deliver excellence through sustainable business practices. These organizations use proven strategies and tactical tools, not lame academic theories that deliver empty promises. That’s because they, like us, embrace a different approach, captured in the motto: “If it doesn’t work in the real world, you’re wasting my time.”

Now, with this second edition, we want to continue to share what we’ve learned in the intervening years, as the customer experience has been transformed through technology and other events. We’ve all witnessed new companies become dominant following these strategies and former greats lose their mojo when they’ve strayed. We wanted to show you what some of our clients have done to implement these ideas. And we wanted to give you a better map for moving your organization forward.

This method is about attaining those results—effectively working with others to exceed the needs of customers using whatever resources you have. No need for the tired (and expensive!) “reinvent the wheel” consulting firm methodology. This book provides a complete, fully integrated approach that identifies what really works, and guides you to create your customized implementation plan, bridging the gap between where you are and where you want to be. You get measurable results with the smartest investment of time, effort, and budget.

To make it possible to understand this customer-first approach, and thus enable you to transform your organization’s internal culture and brand, we have created the comprehensive World Class Excellence Model, which we’ve named after our company, World Class Benchmarking. The model is the result of our decades of success as leaders at the Walt Disney Company and our years of experience and research working with more than two dozen Fortune 500 companies, as well as the most successful large, midsized, and small organizations. It can serve as a compass for your operation, guiding your future success toward bottom-line results, long-term success, and a world-class reputation.

About This Book

Why read this updated business book? Originally, as business leaders, we were frustrated by how scattered the proven success tools were in various books and other resources. We wrote the original version to finally have a one-stop shop for understanding what the best organizations do differently and better, and how you can implement these key facets of continuous and sustainable improvement for your organization or team success. This second edition of Lead With Your Customer includes all-new examples of World Class Excellence and how to apply them to your organization, still founded on our classic leadership model through the lens of your customers—both internally, as you engage your employees (building your organization’s culture), and externally, as you engage your customers (building your brand).

This book reveals the proven way to achieve excellent bottom-line results. Every day, some organizations attain the best outcomes in their particular industry—and not by accident. They work hard following and refining strategies and tactics that simply get better results than those of their competition.

There are thousands of business books about how to create an effective internal organizational culture. And there are nearly as many books about how to create a powerful external company brand. Experts have commented on the importance of these two issues and how they are somehow interconnected, forming in effect two halves of a business puzzle, but no one effectively joined them together—until our original edition, which integrated both in our business model. Thankfully, in the past eight years, there have been several well-documented books that have gone into greater detail about this connection. Our goal with this edition is to focus on examples of how to adapt these best practices to your organization.

Throughout our years of experience with successful organizations of all sizes, we have observed striking behind-the-scenes similarities in how they have achieved consistently excellent results and earned the respect of both professionals and customers around the world. Eventually, we began to see a cohesive pattern and developed our model, which reveals how these organizations transform their cultures and brands to become wildly successful and truly world class—and likewise can enable you to optimize your own operation.

What do these legendary companies do that is different and better? Let’s start with a quick analogy. Ask leaders if they are busy, and they will usually respond by saying that their “plate is full.” Consequently, in today’s fast-moving business environment, we’re so busy day to day that any new responsibilities tend to “fall off the plate” when accountability begins to wane six to 12 months later—creating the infamous program-of-the-month problem.

How do successful organizations avoid the program-of-the-month trap when they make a change to improve their operations? Instead of making the change a discrete project (just another thing on “the plate”), they do something radically different: They make it “the plate”—a sustainable, long-term process of improvement that isn’t seen as an initiative with an end date. According to this approach, business issues—such as your values and vision, methods of delivering service, and interactions with people—should be consistent nonnegotiables, while everything else that is largely beyond your control, such as economic circumstances and political and social issues, shifts with the seasons. World-class companies establish a strategic foundation once and for all and then reinvest their resource savings (the time, money, and effort not wasted chasing business fads) on adapting to the ever-changing context of business.

Obviously, no organization is perfect. Just because an organization is legendary today doesn’t mean that it can’t fail tomorrow. In this respect, we need to note one critical point: In this book, we’re not providing hundreds of world-class business examples to have you focus on the particular organization being described; the future results of any organization will depend on whether it consistently executes the strategies we are sharing. Therefore, we ask that you instead focus on the strategy being exemplified and how it has been successfully implemented in the real world. These excellent results are only a natural outcome when an organization follows the proven principles of success—and this book shows how you too can learn to achieve these same outcomes by focusing first on your customer.

How to Lead Your Customers to World-Class Excellence in the Real World

If you’re looking for an academic book about business theories, this is not the one for you. Lead With Your Customer is the result of our years of operational experience with numerous large, midsized, and small organizations around the globe; our focus is resolutely on the real world. The primary purpose of this updated edition is to explain the benchmark practices these organizations follow in more detail, illustrate them with current examples, and provide more thorough implementation guidance.

Of course, everyone strives to be the best at what they do. What does world class mean in your industry? High-end corporate legends like Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon may come to mind, but can smaller businesses also be considered world class? What about industrial plants and government agencies? And if so, how?

Many people mistakenly assume that world class can refer to only those brands that are the most expensive, the most luxurious, or even the most popular. Actually, you can refer to the best of any particular class of operation as world class, but it seems that many want to claim that status without achieving the results that prove it.

After decades of working with dozens of the most renowned organizations, we noticed a pattern among the most consistently successful ones. The best in every class of operation profitably built the strongest brands by creating high-performing organizational cultures. This doesn’t mean they’re perfect—no organization is. Yet despite their imperfections, these diverse organizations excel in many ways—all worthy of benchmarking—and this book showcases their achievements.

The business tools presented here will enable you to achieve the same breakthrough results as so many other professionals have done—even in the most difficult situations. We encourage you to read this book, implement the solutions that work best for you, and begin realizing your fullest potential.

How This Book Is Organized

Composed in four parts, this book begins by exploring leadership and the foundations for excellence in part I, answering these kinds of questions:

• What are the core, nonnegotiable aspects of my business?

• What types of leadership are most effective?

• How can I really understand my customers?

• How can I understand how all the complex facets of business fit together?

In part II, we explain how leading with your internal customers—your employees—creates your organizational culture. In this respect, legendary organizations keep in mind the following six priority questions that enable them to create the internal effectiveness and efficiencies that develop engaged employees and result in superior customer satisfaction:

• How do you proclaim the promise of your culture?

• How do you focus your employees on service behaviors?

• How can you optimize the workplace?

• How can you harness the power of processes?

• How can you add value by investing in your employees?

• How can you understand the value of getting the price right?

We answer each of these crucial questions about your culture, using many examples from renowned organizations, to show how these priorities fit together logically to achieve organizational excellence in relation to your employees.

In part III, we explore how leading with your external customers creates your brand and how the best organizations focus on the following six priority questions to engage, satisfy, and ultimately exceed the expectations of their customers:

• How do you establish the promise of your brand?

• How do you create an effective front line?

• How can you leverage the workplace to strengthen customer service?

• How can you create an impact through processes?

• How can you focus on products and services?

• How do you get the price right?

Again, as in part II, we devote a chapter to answering each of these crucial brand questions. And using more examples from world-class organizations, we show how these priorities unite to achieve organizational excellence.

Finally, in part IV, we explain how the most successful organizations put it all together to ensure alignment with their core values and vision, integrity, and results. In these final four chapters, you’ll find the answers to these kinds of questions:

• What is service netting, and how can it ensure that no aspect of the customer experience is missed?

• How can I best provide service recovery when my customers aren’t happy?

• How can I lead through the transformation process to achieve the best results?

• What can sustain outstanding results and strengthen my legacy as a leader?

As you read these chapters, you’ll learn how successful leaders have overcome the challenges you currently face. You’ll discover how leading with your customer—both external and internal ones (as you’ll come to see your employees)—can transform your organization’s results. And most important, you’ll learn how to finally halt the never-ending rotation of flawed improvement initiatives that invariably stop being effective. By implementing the proven approach of world-class organizations, you’ll begin to realize the potential you’ve always envisioned. What comes next isn’t just the first chapter of another new business book—it’s the first step toward building lasting success for you and your organization. Your exasperating déjà vu is about to end—if you want it to. Follow in the footsteps of the world’s most renowned organizations and start realizing your team’s potential today!

Mark David Jones
J. Jeff Kober
February 2019