The Smartest Way To Improve Your Product (the Xerox way)

Thierry Meier
3 min readJun 25, 2015

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When Anne Mulcahy took over as CEO of Xerox, she was welcomed with a whopping 15% drop in stock price.

Xerox was in big trouble in the year of 2001. Their stock price had just plummeted by 90% within one year. The future didn’t look bright.

Calling the turnaround Mulcahy was facing a challenge is clearly an understatement. Mulcahy signed up for a mission. She started identifying Xerox’s main issues and explored possible solutions.

One of the company’s main problem was their mediocre customer support and user experience. Mulcahy found out that especially important decision makers have lost touch with their clients. This lead to decisions that were often not primarily in favour of their clients.

Soon after Mulcahy took over, she created an implemented a program called “Focus 500”. The programs main purpose is to raise awareness of customer needs and empathy towards their customers.

Six years later, the stock price quadrupled and the company’s debt was cut in half.

Meet Xerox Focus 500

The concept Mulcahy introduced is simple. 500 executives each get paired with one of their 500 most important clients. Every executives was then responsible for working with the client they got paired with directly.

She also announced that every executive has to work in customer support on a rotating basis. She practically created the most expensive customer support team in the world.

The returns were fantastic. The customer satisfaction improved drastically. Getting everyone involved in customer support made the service and products Xerox provided better in every way. Also, the executives started taking customer needs in to account in the decisions they made.

How can you improve something you don’t fully understand?

First and foremost, the executives started to understand the real problems their customers were facing. Employees started to emphasise more with the customers they were serving. Everyone got closer to the battlefield.

Take Action: Implement a Focus 10

If a giant like Xerox can get 500 executives to pair with 500 clients, it should not be a problem for your startup to do the same on a smaller scale.

Understanding your customer needs or lack thereof is a necessity especially when you start off as a business. Startups should therefore be able to benefit from this concept even more than a giant like Xerox who is already selling something people want.

A welcoming side-effect is that every employee will get the possibility to contribute to the success of their product or service. And the ability to contribute is an important driver of intrinsic motivation.

Every employee becomes a source of ideas to improve your product or service.

Furthermore, every one involved becomes a source of potential ideas for product improvements since everyone is in direct communication with a user. The potential downside is limited. But the upside the findings can provide are huge.

Give it a shot. Pair your employees with a user each. Implement this program for a limited amount of time and see how it goes. Then decide whether you want to keep it alive or not.

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Thierry Meier

Product Designer. Digital Nomad. Creator of @betterdaysapp. Follow me on Twitter @thierrymeier_.