Magazine article Information Today

Customer Intimacy at Wolters Kluwer

Magazine article Information Today

Customer Intimacy at Wolters Kluwer

Article excerpt

John "Jack" J. Lynch Jr. was appointed to the Wolters Kluwer executive board in April 2007. He was previously senior vice president of business development, a position he held since he joined Wolters Kluwer in June 2006. I interviewed him after his keynote at the SIIA Global Information Industry Summit in Berlin in September. His presentation, titled Innovation & Technology- The Keys to Serving Customers, discussed how Wolters Kluwer has adopted a customer intimacy framework across the entire company.

The concept of customer intimacy was originally developed by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, authors of The Discipline of Market Leaders (1994). They defined "customer intimacy" as a strategy that "is predicated on tailoring and shaping products and services to fit an increasingly fine definition of the customer. The objective is long-term customer loyalty and long-term customer profitability."

Q: Tell me a little about your role as executive board member at Wolters Kluwer and something about your previous experience.

A: My portfolio responsibilities include global shared services, technology, business development, and transport services. Previously, I was in charge of the K-12 software division of a software services company providing educational software to schools for reading and math, as well as enterprise software for online assessment and reporting in schools.

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Q: Did you develop customer intimacy ideas there and apply them at Wolters Kluwer?

A: No, a customer intimacy framework had already been developed within Wolters Kluwer prior to my arrival. A core group of people, including Barbara Kroll, director of corporate strategy, worked on the process. An internal task force made up of staff from across the company, plus external consultants, was set up by the executive board to codify the process.

Q: I understand what customer intimacy is trying to achieve, but for an information and publishing industry, how does it differ from a standard "listening to your customers" approach that many companies may use, for example, via customer or library advisory boards?

A: One of the reasons that it's important is that it's very difficult for customers to talk about how ideally they would use technology. We have a conventional advisory board, but they are not so articulate in telling you how they'd use your product. This approach is more about observing people working and asking questions about their objectives. We then step back and reconstruct their processes. I think that advisory boards are very useful for a variety of things; this isn't going to replace them, but a typical "go and talk to the customer" approach without a systematic process won't help you understand exactly what the customer is trying to accomplish.

Q: So it's more than paying lip service to customer consultation, much more in depth?

A: Yes, I think that's about right-- just talking to customers is like doing a project without a real project plan. You need to enter in all the data, fully understand the task and the methodology. My view is that it's important to talk to customers, but you need a systematic approach to listening, getting back to them with what you think you've understood, and then reconstructing and acting effectively on that information, continuously through a product life cycle.

Q: There must have been some people in the company who weren't too keen on the approach---"We know our content best" or "We do it this way here" attitudes. Was it tough to sell?

A: Good question. I'm not the best person to ask, but I'd speculate that probably it was. However, the original task force is now a permanent group. Each division and business unit is represented; it's shared with all colleagues, so they feel that they have ownership and that it isn't simply something coming from the top. But it is a change and different way of working. …

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