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Case Study - Learning to Walk in the Customer's Shoes

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Learning to Walk in the Customer's Shoes

Problem: Like most high-tech companies, semiconductor giant Texas Instruments rode the technology boom in a state of bliss. As customers waited in line for its products, TI became more product- and technology-centric, and admittedly less concerned about its customers. Then came the bust. TI was suddenly forced to compete for new business, yet elements of its management simply wouldn't adjust to the market's new demands. How could TI jolt its people into a renewed awareness of the customer?

Solution: Texas Instruments called on BTS USA, a global supplier of computer-based simulations for learning. The provider developed a customer loyalty course for TI's top 300 executives aimed at raising awareness about customer-centric thinking. The course was so successful that it was expanded to an additional 2,000 TI
managers and earned BTS a coveted Supplier Excellence Award from a grateful TI.

They call it a "Customer Loyalty Boot Camp." The title is appropriate because much like the army's indoctrination for recruits, it represents the Tough Love approach to employee learning. And for Texas Instruments, it seemed that nothing less would do.

Picture the scene: a classroom of 25 TI executives, all chastened by a stern lecture from the company's senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing, Jeffrey S. McCreary. "This company is broken," McCreary railed. But the audience wasn't getting the message. The year was 2001, the bottom was dropping out of the semiconductor industry, and TI's fortunes were plummeting along with it. It was no time for the company to be dismissive of its valued customers-or perceived as such.

Also in the classroom were consultants and trainers from BTS USA. BTS had been invited to help develop and deliver a course for TI executives on customer loyalty. The two-and-a-half-day course had been painstakingly created by BTS following extensive interviews with TI executives, key account managers, and customers to gain an accurate picture of the problems facing the company. The customized course was designed and created with active participation from TI's training department.

The twenty-five assembled managers were divided into five teams, each assigned to simulate executives of a fictitious company called Streaming Wireless Video (STREAVO). The concern "manufactured" a handheld product that included chips supplied by another fictitious company called Terrific Instruments (TI). It was now time for the TI managers to walk a mile in their customer's shoes.

Each team was responsible for a different department within STREAVO, including engineering, finance, supplier management, manufacturing, and marketing. Using laptop computers and a simulation to analyze data, such as engineering specifications, financial statements, and customer and market reports, they pondered the
purchasing decision for three hours before hitting a button named "commit."

"Little did they know that upon return from their coffee break, the teams would walk into a valley of darkness," recalls Daniel Parisi, senior vice president of BTS USA and general manager of its San Francisco office. Parisi was in charge of the seminar, and was about to make their lives miserable by delivering information about Terrific Instruments' execution missteps, including failure to meet time, cost, and performance commitments.

The simulated learning concept he was using got its start in 1985, when Swedish entrepreneur Henrik Ekelund launched BTS to help companies meet strategic business goals. Ekelund found simulation to be a useful tool to communicate complex business strategies to executives, and apparently clients agree. BTS has since expanded to the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland, South Africa, Australia, and Spain.

At the heart of the learning exercise are custom-designed computer-based simulations that replicate the actual business processes of the client company. Each management team is assisted in the decision-making process with a laptop on which they can perform budgeting and "what-if" analysis and scenarios. Over the course of a three-month development process, the simulation was co-created by BTS and the client and inserted into a platform of Excel and Visual Basic software. "It simulates the technical and business interrelationships that exist between TI and its client," says Parisi. "In this case, the semiconductor's performance and functionality are realistically linked into the handheld's design specifications," he says. "Also, the impacts of the supplier execution missteps are extremely realistic," adds Parisi.

The concept often uses a kind of shock therapy to jolt executives into reality. At Texas Instruments, for example, many executives were not sensitive to the impact TI's execution missteps could have on the customer. There also were gaps in their knowledge regarding their customers' drivers of profitability and competitive advantage. In
many cases, they lacked a long-term view of TI's customer relationships.

When the TI executives returned from their break, Parisi was there to greet them, a scowl on his face and a baseball cap that read Terrific Industries on his head. "There are problems with your order," he told the assembled "STREAVO" management teams. Not only would there be a five-week delay in delivery, but alas, the chip would not meet specifications, he told the horrified group. What's more, Parisi was brutally unsympathetic to the customer's predicament. "Count your blessings," he sneered. "After all, we're Terrific. We're Number One." Then came the clincher: an ultimatum from STREAVO's retail customer, "Circus City," which was affected by Terrific's delays. "We don't care about your problems," grumbled Circus. "You will either help us or we will cut you off."

The effect of the simulation exercise was written on the faces of the Texas Instruments executives, who felt betrayed and frustrated at the arrogance on display. Some also felt that the excuses sounded distressingly familiar, as indeed they should have. To complete the session, Parisi played a five-minute video of comments from actual TI customers. "TI's own customers said almost exactly what the TI managers in the STREAVO simulation were saying," said Parisi. Indeed, hearing customers echo their own experience in the simulation "was like hitting them in the stomach," he said.

The boot camp was so successful that it has since been rolled out to more than 2,000 TI managers and engineers, says Parisi, who claims the results speak for themselves. "In 2001, TI had some dissatisfied customers. But at the end of 2003, it was receiving supplier excellence awards from the very same customers," says Parisi. "Within 24 months, TI turned the entire company in a much more customer-centric direction."


1. Do you think that TI took the right approach to achieving better customer satisfaction by training its executives first? Would TI have achieved quicker results by training its front-line employees prior to its executives?


Solution Preview

Let's take closer look at each section from various sources, which you can draw on for your final copy. However, it also suggests drawing on your course material and readings.


1. Do you think that TI took the right approach to achieving better customer satisfaction by training its executives first? Would TI have achieved quicker results by training its front-line employees prior to its executives?

From your template your outline includes the sections:

I. Introduction
II. Review/Analysis of the Case
III. Analysis of Findings
IV. Recommendations
V. Summary and Conclusions
VI. References

Now let's look at some information for you to consider. However, you are asked to include your course material and readings as well.

In today's business world, customers are demanding products and services faster, better, and cheaper than ever before. In fact, many organizations reacted with the implementation of "Six Sigma" quality initiatives and "Lean Enterprise" cost reduction models are a common occurrence in today's business world. This means that a focus on the bottom line has never been more intense (Frontline Performance). Customer satisfaction is therefore essential to business success. Although customer satisfaction is related to training of executives for sensitivity and awareness of customer's experience and needs, front line employees also need to be trained 'early' in the change process.


In analyzing the TI scenario, the question asked is whether TI took the right approach by training its executives first or if the outcomes could be improved had they trained to front-line employees first. To address their customer satisfaction problem, they proposed a question: How could TI jolt its people into a renewed awareness of the customer?

To address this question, TI decided to implement a course referred to as "Customer Loyalty Boot Camp" to shock the 25 executive into customer awareness. Specifically, for the course, the 25 managers were divided into five teams. A simulated exercise was given to each team who were assigned to a fictitious company. This is helpful in imitating real world manager-customer interactions or problems. Real world simulation relation problems were part of the exercises. Through this simulation program, the idea was that if the TI managers experienced what customers do, they could then be more empathic towards the "real" customer. To accomplish this, one exercise was introduced that had a powerful effect on the executives. For example, the effect of the simulation exercise on the TI executives was feelings of betrayal and frustration at the arrogance on display. This was to help the executive gain insights into what it was like to be a customer. Research suggests that this awareness and understanding can lead to more empathy and sensitivity to others.

In fact, the course was reported to be successful based on a measure of customer satisfaction -based on the findings that TI had a decrease in customer dissatisfaction over a 24 month period as reported in the scenario: "In 2001, TI had some ...

Solution Summary

Referring to the case study, this solution examines whether or not TI took the right approach to achieving better customer satisfaction by training its executives first or if TI would have achieved quicker results by training its front-line employees prior to its executives. Research validated.