Look Inward To Enable Customer Focus
In our article series we’re addressing a common challenge – how do we drive our businesses toward developing customer focus? This article will focus specifically on developing customer focused operations.
As we previously stated, the journey to implementing customer focus involves all parts of an organization, including:
- Organizational culture and structure
- Products and services
Given that, how do we develop customer focused operations as part of our larger customer focus strategy?
The answer is a very interesting paradox! To become more operationally focused on your external customers, you must become more focused on your internal customers. On the face of it, that could look like we are focusing on ourselves instead of our customers. But let’s look a little deeper. Let’s look at the value chain.
A Value Chain Story
I love metaphors, so I’ll use one here. Have you ever watched a Western movie when a fire breaks out in a building and everyone shows up to help put it out? They line up in a chain. At one end somebody fills buckets with water and hands them to the next person in the chain. At the other end of the chain somebody else throws the water on the fire. Every person in the chain has a role, and collectively, the entire chain has value. If you are the client and it is your building on fire, you are grateful for that value, even if the only person in the chain you see is the one throwing water on the fire.
Now, here’s the point. If you are the one with the job of throwing water on the fire, you depend on everyone else behind you in the chain to do their job. When the buckets stop coming, there’s not much you can do to serve your customer. Your customer focus will immediately shift to a focus on “What the heck is going on back there?” The customer watches this in horror as his building burns. That happens all the time in organizations that do not have customer focused operations. But how does this happen?
The Corporate Version
Well, let’s say Joe and you are neighbors in this Western town – let’s call it Corporateville. Joe is in the middle of the chain and his job is to hand you buckets full of water. Joe does not view his role in the chain as all that important. In fact, he decides there is something more important for him to be doing. He owes his allegiance to his regular boss, and he is far enough back in the chain that he doesn’t even see the fire – he only sees you, and you don’t seem as important to him as his regular boss who pays him.
Joe walks away, thinking that doing so is not only appropriate, but necessary given his circumstance. The buckets stop; the fire burns. You are outraged, as are others in the chain. Fingers point in both directions, but nothing really comes of it. In fact, next time there is a fire Joe does the same thing.
What is Needed
Does this sound familiar? As crazy as it may sound, it’s not Joe’s fault! But what would have to change to fix this problem? First and foremost, Joe and everyone else in Corporateville would have to recognize that when there is a fire, and you are the one receiving Joe’s buckets, you are his customer. You may still be his neighbor, but now you are a customer! That makes all the difference. Now Joe will treat you like a customer and stay on the job until the fire is out. Thus, to become more operationally focused on your external customers, you must become more focused on your internal customers!
It’s really that simple. Everything else is about removing the reasons why Joe does not think of or treat you like a customer, and adding methods and incentives encouraging him to treat you like a customer. That journey will take your organization into a number of areas as outlined below.
What are the primary ways (like fire fighting programs at Corporateville) that your organization serves its external customers?
Essential Producing Processes
How will staff work together and with their clients to deliver these products and services?
Roles and Responsibilities
How do individuals with different areas of expertise contribute to these “team” efforts?
Rewards and Incentives
How are people motivated to perform well as a member of a cross-functional team?
How do you make sure we have enough people to resource the teams?
How do you ensure that your systems align with and support all of the above?
A long term operational strategy is a vital element of any customer focus initiative. To develop customer focused operations we must look at all operational elements from the inside out. We must develop a strong internal customer focus within our operations to give us the ability to focus on our external customers.
Skills Corner: Tips for Customer Focus
Developing Internal Relationships
In today’s business environment we often forget that, to serve our external customers, we must also serve our internal customers. We are all part of a value chain, and we depend on each other to effectively serve our clients.
In order to create successful business partnerships with internal customers we need to:
- Create common goals
- Build trust
- Encourage open communication
- Develop commitment
With these essential elements in place, you will be able to expand and leverage your internal business partnerships, which will help you and your organization serve external clients. Customer satisfaction, increased growth, and enhanced operations are natural by-products of strong internal business partnerships.
At Advance Consulting we have helped many organizations in their pursuit to become customer focused. We can help you develop and implement your customer focused operation. For more information on how we can assist you, see our Customer Focus services. Or, contact us to discuss your specific needs.