High-Tech Customer Care

By Heather Baldwin

If there’s an industry where a customer-centric business philosophy is critical to a company’s success, it surely is in the world of high-tech, where products can be quickly copied or become obsolete in a matter of months and advantages tend to be fleeting. As a result, “the only way to keep the lead is to stay so closely attuned to your customers that you become part of their business – part of a common enterprise that fills their needs,” says James Champy, author of X-Engineering the Corporation: Reinventing Your Business in the Digital Age (Warner Business Books, 2002).

In other words, if you’re looking for examples of great customer-focused processes, look to successful high-tech companies. One of the best examples of such a company, says Champy, is EMC, the leading producer of computer memory storage devices. In an age when executives are blamed for being out of touch with what their customers really want, EMC’s executive chairman meets personally with 500 customers each year to make sure the company understands their concerns and responds to their needs.

EMC also has set up customer advisory councils in which the company invites the decision-makers from roughly 50 of its client companies to join EMC’s leaders for 20 hours of intense discussion. “They talk about the industry’s specific problems and whether EMC is doing enough to address them – and the discussion includes details of its work in progress,” says Champy. “EMC probes the impact that its solutions might have on its customers, and whether the clients have any partners who should also be brought into the process. And all of that information becomes part of EMC’s strategic planning.”

The result? The company, started more than 20 years ago by two roommates, now commands a 30% share of a market that is expected to reach $100 billion annually by 2005. The message: Even in the world of high-tech, customer relationship management doesn’t have to be high tech. EMC’s success came about simply by asking customers their opinions, listening carefully to their responses and tweaking its business plans accordingly.