Everyone Has A Customer

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We struggle to be “customer focused.” Somehow, our priorities and goals have precedence over understanding and helping our customers. At the same time, we know the most effective/efficient path to achieving our goals is through our customers, creating great value with them.

But what if everything we do, in every part of our organizations focused on serving the customer. How would that change our engagement strategies? How would it change everything each person in our organizations do?

Some would scratch their heads, saying, “We get it, our companies have customers. But it’s the job of sales, marketing, and customer service to work with those customers. My job is different, I work with people internally.”

Some might say, “I get it, kind of. Our product developers have to care about the customers, they have to develop products our customers want to buy. And manufacturing has to make sure those products are high quality so we don’t get returns and keep our customers happy….” But still the customer is an abstraction. The customer isn’t someone we work with and think about every day.

I hesitate to offer this perspective because it relies on profound lessons in business–but developed in the 1950’s and 60’s. Too many think these are irrelevant or haven’t taken the time to learn them because it’s the “olden days. Things are different now…..”

But these principles are powerful and evergreen. We saw the tremendous impact this thinking had with organizations that adapted the concepts to their operations.

The principles basically come from the work of W. Edwards Deming, Taiichi Ohno, Sakishi Toyoda and others in the development of the Toyota Production System. It was extended in the Quality and Six Sigma work of the 70’s and 80’s. It remains the core of all lean and agile work of the 90’s and early 2000’s. (In fact we can trace a lot of this back centuries.)

The basic principle is, “Everyone has a customer.”

Everybody in the organization has someone they serve. HR serves the employees of the organization and supports managers in recruiting, hiring, performance management. Finance serves managers in helping develop and manage budgets, in allocating funding so others can to their jobs. Engineering serves manufacturing to make sure products can be effectively manufactured. IT serves everyone in helping making sure they have the information and data to do their jobs, to help communicate, and so forth. Maintenance serves employees in making sure they are working in clean, healthy workplaces. We can look at every job, every function in the organization and identify the customers they serve.

As we look at our customer engagement strategies, too often we focus only on our external customers. But we operate differently internally.

What if we take seriously the concept, “Everyone has a customer?” Imagine how that would simplify and change behaviors across the organization.

We would have a single answer to “how do we want our customers to think of us?”

We would have a framework that could be applied across the organization to help answer questions like, “how do w create value with our customers?”

We would be driven by the concept of “how are we most helpful to our customers,” focused on “what do my customers care about.”

This mindset would not only improve the how we work within our organizations, but extend the same behaviors to our customers, suppliers, and communities. We would have consistent customer focused behaviors across the entire organization and truly become customer driven.

Think about what this means for learning and development. We have a common framework and principles for the whole organization. We get everyone to think in similar terms: Who is your customer? What do they care about? How can we be most helpful to them? How do we engage them in conversations that are meaningful and impactful to them? The answers will vary across the organization, but the basic questions we have to think about are the same. We now create a culture of people asking these questions of each other constantly, seeking to understand and learn how we most effectively and efficiently serve our customers.

This thinking, when driven across the organization, get us focusing on the things that are most important to our customers, eliminating and stopping all that’s meaningless.

Who is your customer? How are you serving them?

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