To Be CUSTOMER OBSESSED – “Burn the Ships”

Describing this is pretty simple… executing it seems to be incredibly difficult. The concept of “Burn the Ships” is well-known, understood, but often not embraced or followed. It’s one of those great statements to get people fired up. But when it comes to actually making it happen, it comes up short.If you aren’t familiar with the term, allow me to give you an easy definition. “Burn the Ships” means you are all-in, 100% engaged, committing everything to the activity or journey you are on… it simply means there is no going back. It was coined a long time ago to explain that when explorers got to an island, they were not leaving. Without burning the ships, the crew keeps thinking, “If things go bad we can run back to our ships and sail back to where we came from where it is known and safe.” But if the captain burned the ships, there was no going back… they had to figure out how to survive and settle on the island.It is a great analogy in business. Having worked with leaders in many different companies over the past 30 years has shown me how incredible this can be for a company… and their employees know whether they have burned the ships or if they still have a way to go back to the way things were. Without burning the ships you get phrases such as…

The “flavor of the month” – things are always changing… something new happens all the time

“Shiny Objects” – there is always something new and exciting to catch your eye and pursue but don’t worry, there is always a new shiny object out there

“Don’t get wedded to the change” – if you’re married you are stuck so don’t get married to the new changes since we want to go back to the old way of doing things

“The latest brainstorm” – when leadership has a new idea and wants to implement it but the employees know they can delay it until the next brainstorm

These are the kinds of things that kill innovation, momentum, and change inside an organization. Do any of these sound familiar in your organization? If so, might be time to think about “burning the ships” and communicating to your employees, “We aren’t going back to the old way of doing things so let’s all work together to make this be a phenomenal successful.”This phrase has never been more important in my world than in helping CEOs and Business Owners understand that being CUSTOMER OBSESSED and moving their company from GREAT TO REMARKABLE is a “burn the ships strategy”. It isn’t just “something we are going to try and see how it goes.” It requires the leadership team and employees to be ALL IN or it will fail. I know that sounds harsh, but it will. Customer Obsession isn’t something you can do half-way or even most of the way… it has to be all the way to make it successful… which is why most won’t change.CUSTOMER OBSESSION IS WHO YOU ARE, NOT WHAT YOU DO.It becomes part of the DNA of your company… it is who you are. It gives you purpose and answers the WHY question of “Why are we in business?” We are in business to obsess over our customers and treat them better than anyone else so they feel awesome and more important than they did before they met us.” This is being Customer Obsessed.You can’t get there when everyone feels like there is a “ship” to run back to… the old way of doing things. If the employees feel like this is an “initiative” or a “project” or something that has a “start and a finish,” it will fail. You might get better as a company by focusing more on your customer, but you won’t become REMARKABLE or MEMORABLE. And you won’t get the massive WORD-OF-MOUTH that comes when you are memorable and remarkable.Treating Customer Obsession as something less that “all-in” will also come up short on results. You won’t see the big benefits in your business. They won’t talk about you, they won’t share what you do, and they won’t set you apart from all your competition. You might be one of the best but you won’t stand alone and “head and shoulders” above everyone else.I would also argue it probably won’t be worth it if you don’t go all in because you will still incur significant costs (time, resources, and capital) but you won’t get the commensurate rewards (lower marketing costs, higher margins, more customer retention/loyalty, and advocacy). And I always believe if you are going to spend the resources, you should benefit from the rewards.CUSTOMER OBSESSION is awesome… it is a way of life both your customer and your employees will love… because there is a singular focus… THE CUSTOMER. It’s really easy in many ways because everyone is doing something that answers the question, “Is this going to make our customers life better than it was before they interacted with us?” If the answer is no, then you aren’t “all in” on customer obsession. This makes things really simple… everything a company does is to help answer YES to that question… everything.

And the best part is your CUSTOMER KNOWS IT. They see it, feel it, and love it! It’s what separates the great companies from the remarkable ones. It’s what gets talked about and shared.Some companies do this RANDOMLY… not every day with every interaction. We termed this “RANDOM ACTS OF EXCELLENCE AND CHAOS” in our BOOK, “Creating and Delivering Totally Awesome Customer Experiences.” This means that some days you deliver awesomeness and some days things are a mess. The customer gets confused about who you are and what is the norm. And when customers get confused, they defect and leave. Randomness might seem better than average… but it’s not. It causes the customer to not know what they are going to get… this creates fear… not a good thing for customers to be feeling.If you want to be ALL ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS, then BURN THE SHIPS and go ALL IN. It’s a strategic decision about the direction you want to take your company, not an initiative or project. It will become WHO YOU ARE and WHAT PEOPLE TALK ABOUT when it comes to your company. It’s an amazing place to be and there are many examples of companies who are Customer Obsessed. You know it when you visit them… from Fortune 500 down to the “mom and pop” store on the corner where you pay 20% more but love the way you are treated. They exist and they are REMARKABLE!