Some years ago, I took on the challenge of occupying a new position in the Nestle Peru-Bolivia’s Management Committee, an attractive opportunity because it allowed me to enter a multi-category world. One of the most interesting things I found was I had to manage very diverse departments, such as Knowledge and Insights, Corporate Brand, Marketing Communications Media, Digital, Wellness and Consumer Services.

Given the intricate nature of my new position, I often asked myself: What should be the area’s vision? What should guide this diverse team of professionals who have such specific tasks? How do we share a common objective that allows the team as a whole to generate added value to the organization as opposed to simply being grouped by service area?

The answer was simpler than it seemed: the consumer was the center and reason for the team’s existence and was the thread connecting each department and every individual. This gave us the possibility to revisit how we do things in order to do them better and, as a result, contribute to our competitive advantage across all our brands and the overall organization.

The consumer was the center and reason for the team’s existence. The consumer was the thread connecting each department and every individual

The customer is part of our teams

We do have to understand not everyone will fit with the vision, nor will everyone have the skills required to bring it to life. Therefore, it is important to ensure all our employees embrace the implications of a consumer-oriented culture. Otherwise, issues will arise when the employees, along with causing internal disruption, force the vision to remain in the confines of a PowerPoint presentation.

The customer is part of our processes

In the aforementioned challenge, consumer services management in its most basic form was conceived as customer complaint management, responsible for responding in a timely manner according to local consumer protection policies. By embracing the area’s vision, we realized complying with regulations was not the most important thing. We understood that one of the most stressful moments for the consumer was waiting for a prompt response, especially when it comes to food.

How a consumer’s stresses about poorly prepared food is different to how they reacts to a defective shirt. In fact,  particular kinds of food will generate greater stress in the consumer than others—for example, infant formulas. This pushed us to challenge ourselves and establish a protocol to resolve complaints in no longer than one week, not just within 30 days, as the law required.

The customer guides our communications method

The consumer values honesty. This is a fact we see time and time again; for instance, Coca-Cola Classic’s comeback following the failed New Coke. A brand can make a mistake, but evidence proves an honest brand can still maintain customer loyalty and even increase its consumer base. Reliable brands that have made a mistake should not attempt to cover it up; instead, they must do their best to repair the damage. In the end, the way we respond to crises says a lot about us.

The customer challenges us to see beyond the obvious

We constantly receive information from customers. However, this does not guarantee we are working while focused on the customer—this only happens when we are able to interpret the information and scratch below the surface.

This is a situation I have faced more than once. A well-known and beloved brand modernized its packaging to make it more attractive and contrary to expectations, sales began to show an unstoppable downward trend. The managers, concerned about this trend, organized several focus group discussions in which consumers consistently stated the product was no longer the same and its flavor had changed. In another case, regarding a beer brand, consumers said the product now gave them a hangover.

Taking consumers’ comments literally may lead companies to make incorrect decisions

Taking consumers’ comments literally may lead companies to make incorrect decisions, such as returning to the old packaging design. However, when trying to understand the reasons for the consumer’s change in behavior, we may realize consumers are omitting another reason why they stopped buying the product: because the brand redesign was paired with increased product prices, a price increase they are not willing to pay.

Customers feel, act and then rationalize. Frequently, what they communicate to us is the rationalization of a behavior they have justified with other reasons. While the consumer is the center and guide of everything we do, only those who see beyond the obvious will foster long-term relationships, turn strategic intent into a way of doing business, thus becoming consumers’ first choice and gaining competitive advantage.