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The Way I See It… The Motivational Customer


Wexford: Poor beastSophie Ejsmond of Attiva contests that customers can be the key to boosting team motivation levels.

Put the key of despair into the lock of apathy. Turn the knob of mediocrity slowly and open the gates of despondency – welcome to a day in an average office. – David Brent, The Office.

We’re all meant to laugh at David Brent’s cringe-worthy commentary on the world of work. But although The Office is a grotesque caricature of modern working life, anyone with an HR background would acknowledge that Brent’s highly cynical take on employees’ attitudes to work does contain a grain of truth.

The promotion of employee ‘motivation’ and ‘commitment’ has been integral to the HR agenda in recent years. Companies are investing huge sums in training and coaching programmes and empowerment-related exercises all designed to enthuse employees so that they can take the initiative and realise the company’s goals.

Certainly research appears to reinforce the business imperative for motivated employees. The Corporate Leadership Council’s recent study (1) showed that giving people the tools and the techniques to do their job only accounts for 60% of their performance. The remaining 40% comes from ‘discretionary effort’ or effort that cannot be exhorted or mandated.

So why do so many organisations find it so difficult to benefit from the innate energy of their employees and teams – their enthusiasm, commitment and discretionary effort? And how can that energy be directed in the most effective way?

I believe that teams are rarely lacking energy per se. Rather they lack the right stimuli for the release of focused energy – that rare sort of energy which results in what respected academics Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghosal call ‘purposeful action’(2). In my experience the most critical and influential of these ‘stimuli’ and, incidentally, the most underrated, is the customer. A view born out confirmed by the findings of our recent survey conducted by MBA students at the London Business School (3).

Indeed, the most immediate and powerful impact on the Holy Grail of team enthusiasm, commitment, focus and motivation, is bringing the customer voice into the business. Strong customer connection creates not only the right focus for business results, but also releases extraordinary energy for action.

A powerful example comes from O2. About three years ago, some members of the leadership team at O2 discovered that they had a major problem. Steve Nicholas, Head of Corporate Interface in the Technology Division at the time, explains: “All our internal measures of customer service told us we were doing fine, but my conversations with customers revealed the total opposite. Key corporate customers, with tens of thousands of hand sets, were threatening seriously to move to the competition.”

With the pressure to see a return on major technology and licence investments, O2 had lost focus on quality of service. “We were not listening to our customers”, says Steve. “We needed a powerful wake-up call which would break our people away from their normal ways of thinking and trigger a change in attitude.” However, all the various teams in the technology division needed to get the message and act quickly.

The solution was very simple and immediately effective. We recommended to O2 that the Technology Division should receive video feedback from customers, thus eliminating room for debate as to where the business stood. We facilitated a series of focus groups and a hard-hitting video of the customer feedback was made which was shown to teams as part of an interactive workshop. “The video gave the business a major rallying point around the customer that directed everyone’s energies towards what really mattered,” explains Steve. “Our customers were staggered at how quickly we turned the problems around. Loyalty has been increased because we have involved the customers in moving forward.” Within a short space of time, O2’s teams had developed new action plans and their renewed focus and re-directed energy paid off. Now, as everyone knows from their advertising, O2 has achieved number one position in UK network quality.

It has been our experience for many years now – experience which is increasingly backed up by research (2) - that the energy of the customer to bring about rapid change in organisations cannot be underestimated. Organisations are missing a trick if they fail to bring the customer voice into their teams. Not only will this ensure that their teams' energies are firmly focused on adding value to their customers (who, after all, are their reason for being), but the teams themselves will be energised and motivated by the connection. Customers want their suppliers to succeed. If you can improve the quality of your customer connections, the energy and focus of your people will increase dramatically.

1. Corporate Leadership Council 2004 – Employee Engagement Survey
2. ‘A Bias for Action’ – Heike Bruch/Sumantra Ghosal (Harvard Business School Press 2004; ‘Beware the Busy Manager’ (Harvard Business Review 2002)
3. Customer Connection Survey (March 2005). For a copy of the report, apply to Attiva Ltd ([email protected])


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