Transform Your Customers, Don’t Just Serve Them

Innovation isn’t about transactions; it’s about transformation

Do you or your organization lead its customers? Yes, lead. Not just serve them, but lead them. In other words: Do you look out for them? Do you demand of them when they don’t demand more of themselves? Do you transform them?

Organizations that don’t lead their customers / clients are reactive, waiting for them to demand more or simply keeping them as is. These organizations are as common as the sun rising and setting, and that’s sad because we can be so much more than that.

If you’ve read my blog for some time you’ll know that I’m not one to wait for things to happen. Let me tell you a short story of how my entrepreneurial journey started…

The first business I ever had was born in college. When I was in college I was working on stuff I shouldn’t be working on; I was doing stuff that was beyond my years and degree. I initially started working for someone else doing IT consulting all over San Diego county. My “boss” was not ambitious, a risk-taker, he wasn’t someone who played to win; he was content with simply doing the work.

Not me.

So at some point I started having problems with him because I need to be challenged, and if you don’t bring them I will seek or create them for myself. So I tended to take risks with clients, or bring in new clients that were “overqualified” for us. That meant taking on bigger clients with more complex projects, or suggesting more ambitious ideas to existing clients; even though we’ve never done them before.

Whenever I took initiative I was told to wait, or that we were not supposed to take on these projects at that moment. This frustrated me immensely because I don’t like when someone puts a limit on me or on themselves; it drives me crazy!

With that said, I begun to explore other opportunities with a friend in e-commerce (officially my first business, which failed). My boss was sad when I told him that I was leaving to start my business, and even tried to negotiate with me to only work on some projects.

The next week I received calls from clients looking for support. I told them I was no longer with the company, and asked them to call my ex-boss so he could send someone else over to help them. They didn’t want someone else, and insisted I come over because they trusted me. I felt bad, and couldn’t turn them down because I had grown close with many of them, and felt I would let them down if I didn’t show up.

So I did, and knew this would create tension between my ex-boss and I. But these clients wanted to do business with me, I had reset and created an expectation in their heads and they didn’t know any better. They loved my attitude and were thankful that I looked out for them. My focus was on over-delivering consistently for them, and I became obsessed with challenging them to become better; something they would come to value greatly.

Later on I sold this business to a bigger I.T. consulting company, a decision that took me a year to make because of the above reasons: I didn’t want to leave them in the wrong hands and then have them call me again and again.

Before I sold the business I had the CEO of that company come on client visits with me so he could get to know my clients, and understand how I did business with them; I wanted him to see how I lead my clients.

Innovation isn’t about transactions; it’s about transformation

Leadership isn’t limited to ones organization, its outward too; with ones clients / customers. It’s about insisting better ways to achieve outcomes, and inspiring them to become more than just another business.

I never waited for my clients to pick up the phone or send me an email with demands. Instead I was the one insisting and prodding them to do more, by anticipating their needs, providing perspective, doing things before they asked them. I also make sure that the invoices that I’m sending my customers have the right template, like a cleaning invoice template, for a professional looking bill.

This created a very close relationship that went beyond a transaction, I felt responsible for their success today and tomorrow; by doing so I challenged them for the better. Yes, there were failed projects, but there were also victories. More importantly, I was able to imbue them with a sense of daring and surprise, embracing challenges to do more than just business-as-usual; I wanted to transform my clients, not just serve them.

This is what innovation looks like to me.

To create true innovation, ask yourself: Who do you want your customers to become? Where are we taking them? How will we transform them?

Also published on Medium.