Michael Moritz and George Shaheen on Staying Relevant and Focusing on Customers

PV Kannan | May 07, 2015

How do you make your business relevant for tomorrow? I had the pleasure of interviewing some of the brightest minds in technology at a recent [24]7.ai executive event in London. Michael Moritz, Chairman of Sequoia Capital, George Shaheen, formerly of Siebel and Anderson Consulting (now Accenture), and Brendan Witcher, Forrester Research, shared their advice to enterprises on the future and staying relevant. We talked about the disruption of sectors, how companies come out of nowhere and eat up half your space, and the threat to large enterprises. But the theme that kept coming up again and again was the importance of focusing on what customers want.

Michael Moritz - “For any existing business, whether you’re 120 years old or 17 years old, as all of us in this room know, there’s this perpetual threat from the outside that you have to be super-vigilant about, and it is very, very difficult to do when you have customers. The big advantage of our startups is they don’t have customers. But large companies have to worry about customers.”

George Shaheen – “I think to survive, you have to be courageous and bold, and take on business changes that will separate your company from your competition. I think far too many people spend too much time studying their competition and not their customer.”

Brendan Witcher – “When I speak to organizations about legacy systems, or legacy technologies, or a legacy way of thinking, what I usually find is that they have legacy ways of thinking about their customer. They have legacy beliefs about what the customers want and need from their organization.”

We talked about mobile strategy and taking the customer perspective. I have clients tell me that their mobile customers are calling the contact center all the time because there is no self-service in their mobile app. That’s where mobile chat and virtual agents can come in to provide specific information at the moment of need.

But one of the most memorable stories of customer focus came from George Shaheen. “I flew over here on British Airways. I get on this plane and as long as it gets me to where I want to go, I guess I am satisfied. A British Airways lady comes up to me and says, ‘I am the in-flight customer service somebody. You haven’t flown us for a while and I’m sort of curious as to why you haven’t. Is there anything we can do to bring you back?’ I said, ‘I’m retired, I don’t fly that much anymore, and I’m going to the UK on business.’ I said, ‘You have accomplished more with me in this 35-second conversation than all your website and all of your apps could have ever done, because you gave me a personal touch. You recognized me, you knew I wasn’t as frequent as I used to be, and how I might become a more regular customer again.’ I said, ‘That’s really meaningful.’”

What I learned from the discussions is this: while there are many issues that companies face—disruptive technologies, start-ups threatening to disintermediate industries, the speed of enterprise movement—the most important advice to “stay relevant” is very simple, stay focused on what the customer wants.