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A Customer-Focused Strategy Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry


Customer Focused Strategy

JC Penney recently released new ads apologizing to their customers. While work reportedly began on this advertisement campaign before the departure of Ron Johnson, it is no accident that it was aired after the return of former CEO Mike Ullman. The ad acknowledges missteps, asks customers to return to the stores and conveys a simple but important message – JCP listens. They have even made the phrase their new Twitter hashtag.

Timing is everything. Now the question is- has J.C. Penney’s board made the right moves at the right time? The media is split – although most believe Johnson’s departure is a good thing. With the retailer reportedly losing approximately $13 billion and a large number of previously loyal customers, it makes you wonder why they made the move in the first place.

Customers Are King

The trick to implementing any new strategy is first to ensure it is the right one for your customers, your organization and your shareholders. Second, make sure the timing is right. In Johnson’s case he made extensive changes to the J.C. Penney’s sales strategy based on his former success at Apple. While fresh approaches are often positive, remembering to engage existing customers in that new approach is critical.

Johnson chose to abandon coupons and sale events along with a change to the overall brand experience. In addition to changing the logo, the stores were in the process of refitting to house brands that would entice a younger audience.  It’s actually not a bad plan. The problem was execution.

According to a NY Times article, Johnson chose to roll out changes on a massive scale rather than perform small-scale testing. He chose to ignore the concerns of senior management and employees regarding the changes.

Bottom line – choosing to ignore existing customers, trusted team members and internal experts cost J.C. Penney’s large sums of money, a falling stock price and a major change at the helm.

There are some that believe Johnson was not given enough time for his plan to come to fruition. Unfortunately, we will never know if it would have worked.

Strategic Execution Starts with Listening

Mr. Johnson chose to forge ahead without listening. He chose to ignore concerns and did not ask the existing client base what they thought of all the changes. It was only recently that a survey of customers was performed that uncovered the dissatisfaction with new pricing structures. Turns out the loyal J.C. Penney customer really enjoys sales and coupons.

Customers were not the only ones impacted by the changes. According to a Huffington Post article, employees were seen crying from excitement and joy at the news of Johnson’s departure. The continued changes in pricing structure created considerable work for the employees, who had to tag, and re-tag millions of items on a regular basis. Coupled with the continued exodus of customers, employee morale took a dive. No one was listening to these vital front line people.

Good strategic planning is important to creating a solid roadmap. Execution of the strategy is just as critical. However, timing is everything. Even the best strategy attempted at the wrong time can fail. It is absolutely necessary to consider the environment, listen carefully to existing and potential customers, and then take the right steps in the right order. Otherwise, you may end up having to apologize to your customers!

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