It is a sad day in Bookville

If you were not keeping up with the news today, today began the end of a journey for an organization called Borders Books. By agreement with the Bankruptcy court the company began the liquidation of its operations. During a period when consulting assignments were on the dry side, I spent some time working for the company both in the retail end and in its former Corporate Sales Division.

While it is sad to see the organization gone, it also provides us with some clear indications on how not to run our organizations. In its efforts to become the premier bookseller it lost sight of several directions which would have upped its chances to survive.Lets look at some of those misjudgements:

1. Failure to correctly focus on the customer: The company failed to live up to its goal which was to acquire and maintain customers. Picture a client making a special trip to the store to pick up a much needed order and the store had no idea where the order was. When questioned later the store’s response was that the store operation came before the customer. Wrong answer.

2. Failure to listen to the voice of the customer:  Borders was one of the last book stores to sell e-book readers. By the time they got into the market, the I-Pad and the Kindle or the Nook were far outpacing the space. When you begin to listen to the customer after everyone else has solved the customer concerns then you are doomed.

3. Change of Value Statement – Instead of talking about customer needs they began to concentrate on providing the best price. They in essence reduced the customer experience to the lowest common denominator – price.

I know you are saying that is retail. But let me take these lessons are carry it over to a business organization as a whole. If the organization is to survive in this global marketplace then there are some clear strategic directions that need to be undertaken;

Strategy #1: Create a Value Statement which focuses on the customer

Forget what the CEO says the Board’s direction is. Your value statement must be centered around the needs and expectations of your customers. They are the ones that determine whether the doors stay open.

Strategy #2: Listen to the voice of the customer

Get out of your corner office. Visit your clients and customers, whether they are inside the organization or external, and learn what their problems are. Learn what they expect from your human capital assets. Learn what they expect from the organization in the way of services, customer service, and employees. Make the necessary changes to your processes in order to meet the customer requests.

Strategy #3: Remember who pays the bills

The only way you keep your operations going is to acquire and maintain your customer base. Remember it is less expensive to keep an existing customer than it is to find a new one. Your customer service levels must be at the top of the field. Your operations are NOT more important than the customer demands. Remember the mission statement of the Wegman Supermarket Chain.

  • Rule #1: The Client is always right
  • Rule #2: If question whether the client is right, refer to rule #1

Make your processes as customer friendly as possible and ensure that anything that holds the process up is removed so that they run as cheaply, fast and better than your competition. Follow this advice and you will have a better chance to not follow the Borders path to oblivion

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