What Can Be Learned By Listening?

What Can Be Learned By Listening

Listening is a skill that is almost extinct. Today it seems like everybody wants to talk and only a few people are actually willing to listen. However, listening is one of the most effective ways for companies to receive feedback from and understand the needs of their customers. There is no way around it. While we still have the traditional “word of mouth” to pay attention to, today we also face the challenge of customers who are voicing their feedback through social networking sites.  These outlets are far more likely to get noticed today, and have the potential to reach larger numbers of customers than we may realize. It is important that you know that your customers are talking about you all the time, and in a very public way.  It is now time to ask yourself if you are really listening to them. An opportunity missed could mean a number of customers lost, and keeping this in mind, it is important that we start improving our listening skills before that number gets too costly.

Customer Feedback: Read between the Lines

One of the main areas of focus needs to be listening to our customers for feedback. This may mean reading between the lines in emails, paying attention to social posts, or taking the time to talk to our customers in person. We’ve just touched on three important points in a single sentence – emails, social posts, and direct feedback. So much information can be gathered by simply “asking” our customers about their level of satisfaction through feedback mailers. Questions such as: What can we do better? What are we good at? What would you like to see from us in the future? Those provide us with an excellent opportunity for to take any suggestions that customers want to give regarding our business. Don’t underestimate emails.  They can be a great way to get detailed feedback from customers. Remember, though, that the details come in the form of the language and also in the tone of the feedback. Pay attention to the tone and you will understand what the customer is really trying to say.

Listening should Encompass Social, Digital, and Real World

Social posts, not just those on company pages, but also those you find in threads, forums, and user-generated content gives an accurate picture from the customer’s standpoint about the products and services of a company. Research indicates that positive social feedback will lead to positive impacts in sales as well. A recent study from International Data Corporation (IDC), Social Buying: the Importance of Trusted Networks during the B2B Purchase Process shows that 75% of the business-to-business (B2B) buyers and 84% of C-level/vice president executives in the study use social media to support purchase decisions.

It’s always important to talk to customers directly, whether it is through online communication, over the telephone, or by asking them to complete personal surveys. The feedback you receive will then give you a clearer understanding of what your customers like about you and what they don’t. If the questions are well placed, you may also discover if your customers are considering taking their business elsewhere. You will also be able to use the feedback to trace those customer touch points that have been most effective. Along with social and digital, it’s equally important to connect with customers in the real world. Just one example of how to do this would be setting up kiosks in strategic locations that will allow a designated representative to interact with and talk to customers. It will provide your company with the opportunity to answer any questions your customers have and will ultimately be something that can bring the company closer to its customers.

Applying the Feedback

The final step is to take the information obtained through listening to your customers and applying it when developing new ways to service them. Merely taking the feedback and not applying it would be a breach of trust and lead to customers who are less likely to give you their honest views on things in future.

Gone are the days when the customers were given a choice of Option A or Option B. In the age of customer empowerment, they are creating their own options. They are aware that their choices are immense. It is, therefore, imperative that companies listen to what their customers are saying because not listening can mean giving your business away to your competitors.

How do your customers share feedback with you?  How do you ensure that you are listening?

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How Power over Ethernet (PoE) can Simplify, Retrofit Project Design

Connectivity : Ethernet cables in harmony

Today’s businesses require constant support from advanced network devices such as IP paging and intercom. Designing the IT infrastructure of an organization demands advance planning, and every angle of the design must be planned well in advance of implementation. If this is so, then logically, the planning, product selection, and installation should be easier. But professionals in the integration business know that it is never this simple. Perfection can never be achieved, especially when it comes to retrofitting. Sometimes items are missed in design and construction, and sometimes we are trying to install new technology into an already existing framework, making things even more difficult. For many solutions such as paging and intercom, upgrades are extremely time consuming and burdened with hurdles. One of the big challenges we commonly face is the lack of Alternating Current to power all of the devices. For all these issues PoE, or Power over Ethernet, provides an effective solution.

How can PoE contribute?

PoE allows both power and data to pass through a single Ethernet cable. It not only saves the time taken to install the devices, but also increases the flexibility and reduces the devices dependency on electrical power outlets to start operating. Wherever there is a requirement to install wired LAN Ethernet, PoE can add speed, flexibility, and accessibility of the devices.

Think about all the money that can be saved by using a single cable to transmit both power and data. Electrical current can flow along with data, thus reducing the need to concentrate the device connections on areas where only AC outlets are available. The utilization of PoE makes installations smoother and cost-effective as compared to traditional technologies. In addition, you can place the network devices according their ideal locations and not according to the location of the power outlets, making work much easier.

PoE and Retrofitting

PoE has the potential to make retrofit and unexpected changes easier as well, increasing overall efficiency. Retrofitting implies making additions or changes to older infrastructure designs and systems. In the absence of PoE, it becomes almost unthinkable to achieve the difficult task of retrofitting while keeping time and budget constraints in mind. With the help of PoE enabled network devices and access points, retrofit and project designs add no additional burden. You can upgrade your older systems and add new technology without worrying about the huge expenses incurred from time and money spent trying to make something fit into your existing design.

Using PoE can also eliminate issues related to power outage. A single UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) device connected with the PoE can act as a backup power system in the case of an outage. If mission critical projects were to lose power or data, the ramifications would be unthinkable. Therefore, central management of the data network and power supply through PoE makes sense. The operations would be less expensive overall and you wouldn’t need to waste time asking for the assistance of a technician. Self-sufficiency is the added bonus when PoE is a part of the IT infrastructure design of your organization.

We’d love to hear about your experience with PoE. How has it impacted your AV integrations?

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Why Showing up is one of the Unspoken Keys to Being a Good Leader

Keys to Being a Good Leader

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” ~ John Quincy Adams

This saying from a leader of the United States says it all. A true leader is not someone who merely stands from a podium and dictates; rather a leader is a person who wholeheartedly participates with their employees to accomplish a particular mission. When it comes to doing business in the real world, how many so-called leaders would jump in the muck to help push out the truck that is stuck in the mud? Perhaps very few, since a majority of managers, higher execs, and business leaders view leadership as a position above the fray, and they consider it beneath them to get their hands dirty. What they often forget is: good leaders act as ladders for others to reach to higher levels of productivity and performance to fulfill organizational and professional goals. Essentially a good leader is a torchbearer, guiding others through the right path to success, right there at the front of the line.

Keys to Being a Good Leader 

Are you interested in learning the characteristics of a good leader? Showing up is one half of the battle, but showing up with these seven traits under your belt will secure your spot as a true leader within your organization:

Commitment. No motivation is as great as seeing the leader working along with his/her team members. The commitment to goals that are set and your willingness to work towards those goals with your team will definitely cement their commitment to the project as well.

Integrity. Your team is a reflection of your own self.  So, if you are righteous enough with your plan of action, your team members will replicate the same. If you promise something to your employees, stand by your word. Honesty, and right judgement will impart to your team that you are a fair leader.

Empathy. Understand your members deeply instead of always bending them to your will. If you try to assert the power of your position by commanding others, it may actually backfire on you. People want to feel empowered, not enslaved, and they will buck against you if they don’t feel that you are on their side.  They may view your attempts to control as a camouflage of your own weakness. Once it’s recognized, others will challenge it right away. Be empathic to people, and deal with them courteously.

Cooperation. Cooperate, don’t overpower. Create passion among your members, so that they execute their tasks heartily. Making our employees do something through commands and orders is an act of belittling. Belittle, and you can expect little results. Motivate through team work and raise the bar. You can expect your team will rise to meet and exceed your expectations.

Security. Your team will look up to you in moments of uncertainty. It’s your responsibility to provide them with security and reassurance during times of indecision. Keeping your calm and being confident will go a long way to leading them out of ambiguous situations.

Intuition. Unpredictable scenarios might pop up every now and then, and that is where your natural intuition will come into play. You can build intuitive skill by deriving knowledge from your past experiences, as well as reaching out to your mentors. The trust you have in yourself while making decisions will build trust in others.

Flexibility. You might have your set rules and plans of action and they might be perfectly and accurately laid out, but sometimes you’ll find that a deviation is necessary to ensure success. When you are working with a team comprising folks with different mindsets, you have to be flexible enough to view things from varied perspectives. Your ability to be open minded will not only get you close to others, but also keeps you open to finding the best ideas for the execution of any given plan.

A successful leader is the one who has thorough knowledge of his/her organization and a clear vision of the goals. Say a little bit less. Do a little bit more. And trust that your team will follow suit. Ultimately, good leaders steer the course for the collective efforts of a team, they stand in the trenches with them, and they win together.

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Allow Your Customers to be Your Best Sales Team

Allow Your Customers to be Your Best Sales Team

According to statistics, it is six times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep the ones you have. What follows naturally for companies, including those of us dealing with AV technologies and integration, is to make our customers our biggest brand ambassadors. But how? The answer lies in making the customer experience meaningful. So, while you are trying to sell your product to your customer, think of channel integration and target marketing that will make the buying experience for the customer more logical and service-oriented. Your customer will be pleased, and creating one happy customer is the first step to finding more.

Take Care of Your Customers

The bottom line will always be: when you take care of your customers, your business grows through word-of-mouth. When a customer has a great experience with a product or service, they want to tell people about it. When you’ve solved a problem for them, they will be quick to suggest that you solve the same problem for a colleague with similar needs. Investing in your customers through marketing channel integration: websites, catalogues, retail centers, resellers, distributors, etc. is always a good idea. The customer is looking for a holistic channel of information about your products or services. They are looking for a logical buying, learning, and sharing experience in a single platform.

When you provide them with everything they need, your customers will never think of shifting to another distributor. You’ve won their loyalty. And loyalty is marketing gold. Opening channels of customer interaction and making time for conversation anytime they wish to communicate, is another tactic that will go a long way in building a strong and loyal customer base. Your customers leave happy from their interactions with you. When they are happy with their buying experience, they may recommend your company to five or ten more interested buyers. Sounds like a sales team, right? Only, you don’t need to spend more from the company’s budget to employ this dedicated team.

How Customers find Customers

How can your customers find new customers for your organization? You can request your customers to leave testimonials on your website about their experience as your client. Prospective buyers put a lot of weigh on what previous customers have to say about a company. To make your website more genuine, ask your customers to leave honest feedback on any issues that you may need to address so that you can do things better. You can also give them the opportunity to refer others to your business through contact forms. Data has shown time and time again that people are more willing to trust a customer’s preference over any of your sales and marketing material.

Empowering your customers with information about your company’s products and services, knowledge about your industry, and the opportunity to involve them in developments for your organization, creates a relationship of trust. Honest business values, along with care and attention to the customer’s preferences, and involving your customers in every exchange that takes place, gives importance to their feedback. Interacting with them makes them feel a part of your company. And when you have earned their trust and formed a genuine relationship with them, your customers will become your most trusted sales team.

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Making Collaboration Work Better By Using Better Microphones

Making Collaboration Work Better By Using Better Microphones

Collaboration is an essential for modern businesses to grow. However, collaboration is never complete without seamless communication. Interrupted, flawed, deferred communication is a major obstacle that organizations strive hard to overcome. Emails, phone calls, and instant messengers (IMs) are popular methods of interaction, but business collaboration requires something more than these – something that comes closer to real-life interaction. When attempting complex collaboration like video meetings with multiple users, or large board room meetings, there are many aspects for the AV integrator to consider to ensure the best possible experience. AV installations allow businesses to achieve high standards for communication and have been acknowledged globally as the most powerful platform for collaboration.

Productive AV Installations are more Important than ever Before

The bigger the organization, the more important becomes the role of AV installations. They are not only used for onsite and offsite team meetings, but modern businesses are increasingly relying on these methods for developing strategic partnership, conducting board meetings, or sharing knowledge. Business strategists think that through virtual AV interaction, not only will collaboration developers enjoy real-time interactivity, but they will also enjoy a cost-savings.  Compared to traditional face-to-face meetings, which demand a significant amount of financial investment at times, virtual AV interaction is delivering the same results without negatively affecting the ROI.

No more Overlooking Audio

We hear time and again how video is driving businesses to successful collaboration. The real-time and real-life virtual interaction has become so important for modern businesses that leading solution providers are introducing newer features and updates almost regularly. And video is certainly a large part of collaboration success. But we would argue that audio is just as important. Unfortunately, it is not a rare occurrence that meeting participants who have high speed Internet, crystal clear video, and continuous video streaming, experience lackluster audio support. A faulty microphone, or subpar audio can kill productivity as quickly as a failed internet connection. A small team may be able to hurdle the audio obstacle, but it’s much harder to do when your team hails from various geographical locations, or you are addressing a crowd in a meeting room. Superior audio support, along with high speed Internet connection, flawless streaming and graphic video quality, become equally important and dependent on one another.

Audio-Video – Perfect Complements for Productive Communication

A virtual collaboration cannot produce the desired effect unless the strategic points are clearly specified, explained, and acknowledged. Audio and video, from this perspective, are complementary and supplementary to one another. In the case of meeting room installation, AV installers should remember that placing a few stationary microphones at different corners of a meeting room is not adequate, especially in an environment that demands instant and interruption free access to information. If a live event is planned (such as a panel, or a round table discussion), the audio challenges become even more difficult. Wireless provides flexibility that allows multiple users to have high quality audio reinforcement that can also be exchanged quickly and provide flexibility for in space Public Address as well as system integration into a video or audio conferencing solution.

Not just Better Microphones, but Better Deployment

The primary goal of an ideal AV installation should be to ensure that participants in a meeting experience the freedom to enjoy a productive gathering, without concern for whether or not the technology will function properly. While installing microphones, integrators should focus on easy deployment, compatibility with the system, and transparency. Adoption of wireless conference microphones is becoming the preferred choices of users, as they meet the demand for great audio in a variety of situations.

How are you integrating audio for meeting rooms and video collaboration?  We’d love to hear about your experience with wireless microphone solutions.

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Role of Humility in Business Leadership

Role of Humility in Business Leadership

Humility is one of those qualities that all leaders say they admire, but only a handful of them actually practice. Some say leadership and humility do not mix, while others take humility as a sign of weakness. In fact, leadership is often misconstrued as the act of standing above the fray and ruling the rest. When it comes to the integration space, I have noticed that the same flawed notion of leadership exists in organizations big and small. If humble leadership sounds like an oxymoron, perhaps we need to explore the true definition of it.

Many Leaders don’t care about Humility, but Should

More often than not, humility is perceived incorrectly as the lack of confidence and courage – two of the most desired traits in a leader. While a leader who is weak and unsure of himself/herself is most definitely susceptible to being walked over, that isn’t the case for a humble leader. The blurry line between weak leadership and humble leadership is the reason why humility is not typically viewed as a leadership essential. A Forbes article has aptly described the role of humility in leadership:

“A humble leader is secure enough to recognize his or her weaknesses and to seek the input and talents of others. By being receptive to outside ideas and assistance, creative leaders open up new avenues for the organization and for their employees.”

I think the philosophy of servant leadership, a guide who is both servant and a leader, is entwined with the concept of humble leadership. Both of these ideas stem from the basic need for leaders to listen carefully, act in a way that is not self-serving, and “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” Management expert, Ken Blanchard in his book, The One Minute Manager has rightly pointed out: “People with humility do not think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less.”

In theory, humble leadership receives high praise. In practice, humility is a precious leadership quality has been backed by a recent report by a global research firm, Catalyst. According to the study conducted on nearly 1500 working individuals from the U.S., Australia, China, Germany, India, and Mexico, humility emerged as one of the top four leadership qualities helpful in creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. Creative ideas and innovation are characteristics of a working environment under humble leadership, because of the openness and acceptance that employees feel.

How Leaders can Develop a Humble Approach

Be a good listener. Being a good listener helps us know our people better, to understand what they want/need, and to show them that we value them as individuals. The integration space is built on how well we collaborate and work as a team. A good leader is expected to act as a link between the teams, solving common issues, and keeping them together. Good listening skills help leaders in the integration space achieve these goals.   

Lead by example. The concept of “show, don’t tell” is extremely relevant in our field where we are often faced with challenges in integration projects that we have never encountered before. The responsibility of a good leader involves identifying the challenges, addressing them, and leaving a knowledge trail behind for others to follow and learn from.

Give credit don’t take it. Most leaders fail to realize that leading is not about basking in the glory of a personal win. Instead, it’s about radiating a sense of collective achievement, and giving others credit for successes, even if he/she has done the lion’s share of work.

Help others to get the best out of them.  People in leadership roles often forget the virtues of motivating, and focus on just getting the work done. This is easily one of the most discernible factors that distinguish bad leaders from good leaders. Good leaders always strive to help others and thus, get the best from them.

Show gratitude. This is the ultimate gesture of humility and also the most forgotten one.  Many studies have found that when managers remember to say “please” and “thank you” to their subordinates, those people feel motivated to work harder.

Humility may take practice, but the payoff of humble leadership is worth the effort. Productive employees, and pleasant working environment is the perfect recipe for creating an innovative and forward thinking business.

Do you think humility is important in leadership? How often do you practice these five steps of humble leadership?

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5 Ways To Become More Customer Centric

5 Ways To Become More Customer Centric

Of all the changes the Internet has initiated, the most significant from a business standpoint is the way that it has put more power into the hands of our customers. With the ability to make informed choices in a multi-channel environment, customers are running the show. When it comes to integration and technology businesses, customer centricity is one of the key factors impacting success. But merely writing a customer focus into to your mission statement isn’t enough. You have to seriously evaluate and realign your core business values. So, what are the things we can put into practice in our business to make customer centricity a reality?

Talk about customer centricity. Customer centricity is not a business strategy but a cultural paradigm fostered by corporate leadership. Your employees are the front line to your customers, but they require direction from you. Make customer centricity a part of your regular business vocabulary. Set an example. Your employees can become the champions of change, but you have to steer them in the right direction to make that happen.

Empower your employees. Oftentimes customer issues require prompt solutions, but the process gets delayed because the customer-facing employee needs to get authorization from someone in higher authority. By properly training and granting employees more latitude and support, you can prevent red tape from impeding excellent service. Organizations with more empowered employees make meaningful decisions and resolve customer issues faster.

Instill positivity. Situations when your customers’ demands are not fully justified are fairly common. Despite the adage, the customer isn’t really always right. Such situations can frustrate employees and foster a negative attitude towards those customers, sometimes to the extent of bad-mouthing them. Regardless of justification, this behavior is never acceptable and should not be allowed to exist or spread within an organization. A positive, customer-first culture must be inculcated among employees right at the outset to train them to handling difficult customers and frustrated co-workers with patience and respect.

Listen to your customers. Proactively listening and creating opportunity to listen to customers via social and other means is a great way to know not only what they are saying to us but also saying about us.

Reiterate your commitment to your customer-centric values. Repeatedly stressing the importance of your customer-centric values is one of the methods to effectively infuse these values into your company’s culture. If not daily, you should at least talk about your core values to your employees on a weekly basis. Remember, it’s an on-going dialog, not a conversation to be tabled for an annual meeting or review and forgotten shortly afterward.

Customer-centricity is the future of business and the sooner we adopt the right measures to develop a customer-centric culture within our companies, the better positioned are we to face the future.

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Portable Sound is Still a Hot Commodity for Education, Rental, and Staging

Portable Sound is Still a Hot Commodity for Education, Rental, and Staging

Where does the success of a public address system lie? It depends on how many people need to be reached, and how well the address system reaches them. AV solutions like portable sound systems are designed to be used in many different environments with ease and functionality. Schools and higher ed institutions have a need for adopting portable Public Address (PA) systems for classroom lectures, outdoor events, campus announcements, emergency notifications, and a host of other activities that require distribution of information to a mass audience. It is smart for AV integrators to reach out to the education sector to provide them with the unique sound solutions they require.

Portable PA Systems beat the Challenges of Sound Reinforcement   

When it comes to outdoor learning, or teaching via audiovisual means, one of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to provide quality sound reinforcement so all the students from the first to the last can hear adequately. The instability of the environment adds to the problem. When a teacher wants to move their classroom outside for a session, it isn’t typical that the area is set up to handle AV equipment.  In this case, an ideal solution can be a compact and portable PA system that allows users to scale their reach from 5 to 5,000 people without a drop in sound quality. Unwanted noise interruptions, are a fairly common occurrence during outdoor events. PA systems with noise cancellation functions can override any internal or external sound sources improving the quality and outcomes of these events significantly.

How PA Systems help Create Better Events  

Portable PA systems are versatile enough to be transported easily from classrooms, to assembly halls, to school grounds for a variety of events. PA systems are comprised of a combination of three components: a sound pickup device, in most cases a microphone, for converting sound waves into electronic signal; an amplifier for augmenting the signal; and a loud speaker for converting the electrical signal to amplified sound wave.

The basic quality of a PA system is judged by its wattage and the power of its amplifier, which may vary from a few watts to 500 watts or more. Moreover, a PA system should be chosen keeping in mind the audience size, and the size of the auditorium, as well as the nature of the physical environment. Whereas an outdoor event requires less amplification and more wattage, an auditorium asks for just the opposite. Regardless of the set up, AV integrators can provide the right solution keeping specifications in mind.

Portability is a must have Feature

Portability is especially important for PA systems used within schools. The ability to move the system from room to room, when and where it is needed is essential. Systems with wheels, handles, and compact cases are preferred over heavier ones due to their user friendliness. Many PA systems possess a wireless microphone solution to take the portability factor a few notches higher. While an option laden PA system might offer many technologically advanced features, it lacks the extremely important portability feature for use in the education sector. Therefore, our focus should be designing a PA device that exhibits minimalist design, compact build, and great functionality.

Keep in mind that small portable PA’s can offer a great solution for the teacher who wants to take the class outside on a whim, or the athletic director giving a speech to student-athletes, and any other scenario that isn’t set up with dedicated AV ready to go. For AV companies, considering having these available for sale/rent is a solid way to monetize a need, while being a value added partner to your clients in education.

Do you currently offer these portable solutions for your clients? We’d love to hear how you customize solutions for use in the education environment.

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How Important is Employee Buy-In During Business Transformation?

How Important is Employee Buy-In During Business Transformation
Today’s business landscape is changing rapidly and is bringing with it tons of new ideas, evolution, and best practices. While our businesses are being affected by many factors, probably none of them are more transformative than the evolution of communication. Thanks to technology, we are connected more than ever and have new and multiple ways to stay in touch with employees, customers, and stakeholders. Ironically, as tech has brought us closer together and opened up new channels of communication, it has also left us growing farther apart. Our physical distance from co-workers and clients sometime results in a lack of warmth and personal touch that often impacts the organization both internally and externally. We see the effects most prominently within interpersonal relationships inside an organization.  When businesses look to transform, the company environment must play some role in the transformation.

Business Transformation: What Drives Change?

When transformation becomes a business goal it is the employees who drive the process. But, the biggest challenge for business leaders is knowing how to steer their employees to work towards the goal. Motivating people to change, and leading transformation in their own business area is not easy, especially if leadership is used to the values and the well-established workplace culture. Change can be unsettling, and if the approach is not right there is the risk of dissatisfaction brewing among employees.

Communication is important for aligning employees with the transformation goals of an organization. Since involving employees in business transformation requires a closer and more effective relationship between employees and leaders, organizations should work towards engaging their employees, building their commitment to the company’s success, and increasing their motivation to contribute, while also protecting their interests.

Managers should be empowered to engage employees. Organizations looking to achieve transformation need to first engage their line managers, providing them with information on the strategic challenges facing the organization, so they can in turn engage the workforce. A ripple of positivity can grow into the wave that carries the business forward.

The First Steps toward Transformation

Having strong leadership is important. When it comes to initiating business transformations, a strong strategic leadership is necessary to explain the motive of the change to the employees, and to guide them through the process of transformation. Only when employees understand what their organization is trying to achieve, and how they fit within that framework, can they participate whole-heartedly in the transformative efforts of their organizations.

Employees must be informed and given a platform to voice their opinions. To encourage employees to support business transformation, keep them informed on key decisions made by the upper level managers and update them about how those decisions should be implemented. Equally important is to provide employees with a platform to voice their opinions so that their views and ideas can be taken into consideration. Knowing that management is open and willing to listen makes employees feel a part of the organization and the transformation.

Honesty and integrity must be at the heart of every transformation. As businesses head towards transformation, it’s important for leaders to ensure that every action is the fruit of honest intentions and integrity. While change must come, it should not come at the expense of undermining organizational values and the employees’ wellbeing.

Employees are the building blocks of an organization, so in order to bring about true business transformation, they must be involved and engaged to help push the organization to a new frontier.  

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The Difference Between a Customer and a Business Partner

The Difference Between a Customer and a Business Partner

Over the past decade, or maybe a bit longer, the term “partner” has been thrown around quite a bit. We should realize that a partner is more than just someone who does business with us, however. The role of a partner involves strategic alignment and a genuine desire to improve one another’s vision, goals, operations, or all of the above. If we take a close, hard look at it, we may begin to see how our customers are involved in shaping our organizational framework. We as “vendors” and “service providers” are constantly trying to make our customers’ lives better. With “customer-centricity” becoming buzz worthy, it’s the perfect time for us to begin looking at our customers as more than just “someone who buys our stuff.”

How Different are Customers and Business Partners?

Most companies treat partners and customers differently, at least, that’s what the norm has been. There are, of course, fundamental differences in the relationships and types of transactions among customers and partners. For example, products and services reach the customer, while money reaches the company, but in the case of partnerships, products and services flow in both directions. The basic premise for both relationships remain the same however. The tie that binds them is value creation. A fairly obvious question arises: why can’t we treat our customers and partners equally? Of course, we can, and we should. Let’s discuss why.

Customers are more empowered than ever before. Today, customers have more choices than they have ever had. They can buy products and services from, virtually, any corner of the world. Before making their purchase, they have the resources to learn about products: they can see all the choices they have, have access to reviews, and can see how businesses engage their customers with the help of social media. Gone are the days when brands enjoyed the upper hand in the buyer-seller relationship. Instead, the customer is now in control of how, when, and what to buy. With the power shifting to customers, businesses have two choices – they can either treat customers like they matter the most, or perish. Making customers our business partners not only gives them a sense of being cared for and nurtured, but also helps us build a stronger relationship with them.

Customers want to be involved with the brands they trust. Customers are increasingly seeking engagement with brands, which is why it is imperative for businesses to take steps towards meaningful interaction with their customers. The cut-and-dried method of selling is, well, dried up. When customers are seeking active participation with our brands, we need to talk to them, interact with them, and make them feel part of the brand that we build together. The initial interaction is an important step towards making customers our brand advocates.

Doesn’t this discussion remind you of the movie Jerry Maguire? The film holds cues to what a customer-centric business recipe should look like: honest business values, topped with extra care and attention. While this customer-turned-partner approach may slow down growth initially, a true business partnership is long-term, and will lead to great results down the road. In these changing times, it is fairly safe to predict that the typical buyer-seller relationship will slowly be replaced by the customer-as-partner model. The success of our business will depend on how soon we can change our attitude and embrace our customers as true partners. “Customer partnership” can be the bread and butter for future businesses and we should make the most of it.

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