USAA Customer-First Approach to Business

In the March 1, 2010 edition of BusinessWeek there is an article entitled“Customer Service Champs: USAA’s Battle Plan.”  USAA provides financial services for military families and they understand their customers inside and out.  They use technology to allow service men and women to deposit checks no matter where they are stationed. They have programs specially designed for the unique nature of their customers.  They address their customers by their military title.  They have created a company that puts the specific needs of their customers first.

I was especially intrigued by what the article refers to it as their Secret Sauce. 

  • Training for call center reps lasts up to six months BEFORE they hit the phones so they have a true understanding of the customer before fielding calls
  • Employees don the attire of their military customer; walking “a mile” in their shoes, wearing Kevlar vest and eating military MREs (meals ready to eat)
  • Top notch benefits – happy employees make for happy customers
  • Huge Technology investment for both the customer service reps as well as state of the art mobile options for customers

Rarely do we find a company that is so customer-focused they require employees to “live the life” of their customers so they can understand their unique needs.  What lessons can we learn?

If we step back from our business for a moment and turn our ENTIRE ATTENTION to the customer – their life style – their needs – would we find there were changes that need to be made in how we approach our business?

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Kindle: The Backward Approach to Customers

So I’m going through my stack of articles that I rip out of magazines and save for the “some day” that I’m going to do something with them and came across this article about the top 50 Innovative businesses of 2009 that appeared in the March 2009 issue of Fast Company.

Amazon comes in at #9 with a tagline piece of advice “what’s dangerous is not to evolve.”

The article is about the incredible sales of the Kindle.  Of course, almost a year later, the Kindle isn’t new news but there was a statement in the article that was important enough for me to circle it and save:

“There are two ways to extend a business. Take inventory of what you’re good at and extend out from your skills. Or determine what your customers need and work backward, even if it requires learning new skills.  Kindle is an example of working backward.”

It is rare that a company begins its life or expands its offerings by first asking the customer what they want or need.  If we start with the customer first – how would that change what we offer or how our business evolves?

I talk with many entrepreneurs who ask “how many years did it take you before you refined your niche market.”    Or other veterans of business who say “my business today isn’t anything like what I thought it would be when I started.”

If we started with the customer first…would we get to our ideal business sooner? Do you have a customer focused business?

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