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  • A Complex Web: Customers, Processes and Operations

    We only exist because we have a customer base. Why is it that we are biting the hand that feeds us?

    Upstart: Gamechangers

    Why do your employees perform their jobs as they do? How did those processes evolve?

    We develop products and service offerings based on our individual read on a market niche and area of interest. As the business takes off, and

    Courtesy: Dinostock/PhotoXpress

    operations gain momentum, things evolve organically. Business processes take shape naturally as staff do their jobs in a way which is focused on the task at hand. The business grows, our organization becomes more complex, and although we deliver a product or service, we’re often focused on the next product, version or service upgrade. We’re trying to figure out how to stay in business.

    When looking at our organizations, and how we operate, too often we forget about the customers.  But if our businesses exist because of – or for – our customers and clients, then why are customer needs not the driving force of our operational business processes?

    Most businesses will say their customers are an important and key part of the business. But in reality, the customers, upon whom we ultimately rely, are taken care of by high-tech customer service desks with quantitative metrics determining successes. We set up call centres with increasingly complex technologies and then focus on business metrics. How many calls did each agent answer? How quickly was the call closed? How many calls were escalated? What was the reason for customer calls?

    I have always found this approach surprising, because while metrics and numbers are important for us to empirically improve our business performance, we only exist because we have a customer base. Why is it that we are, to use the age-old cliché, biting the hand that feeds us?

    The answer lies in what we consider to be our product.

    Zappos, for example, is famous for its customer service. It is their raison d’etre. And they started as an on-line shoe store!  When we look at our business development, marketing and product upgrades, what really drives our business, and our business decision?  What the market demands?  What the sales team say would be a great offering? The traditional market-research based concept of focus-groups is showing the market what you want to offer and asking them what they think about it. It seems a bit backwards. Shouldn’t we focus on what our customers want or need and give that to them?

    Absolutely. But if we really want to be customer-centric, then everything about our business must relate back to our customers. Everything.

    Several years ago, the hot topic in HR was employee empowerment. What made good service companies great employers? Allowing – no, requiring – the employees, regardless of the job or position in the hierarchy to provide excellent service. Company after company proved that excellent customer service led to higher profits.

    Unfortunately, many product-driven businesses haven’t caught on. Their processes are based on efficiencies, and internally-focused staff become removed from the customer.

    But what if all of our staff had an external customer focus? What if the software developer put her/himself in the position of the end user? The product would likely be more intuitive, and to paraphrase Steve Jobs, give people what they didn’t know they wanted. What if the finance group looked at the numbers from the customers’ perspectives? Likely our procurement, sales terms and even payment forms would be more efficient because our finance department would be speaking the same language as that of our customers’. What if business development and product management folks spent half of their time asking the customers what they want, and another half of the time developing what the customers asked for, rather than trying to sell the company’s off-the-shelf products, or establish company driven development-cycle dictates. Our new releases or upgrade versions would be what the customer wants, and when they want it – surely that is a much easier sell.

    Of course I know that there is some idealism involved here. But why not? Isn’t that what our strategic goals should be? Isn’t that the essence of continuous improvement? Let’s follow the immensely successful “Golden Rule” example from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts founder Issy Sharp.

    A challenge:  Let’s try putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes. What do they want. Why? What would I want? If I were to dream of the ultimate, what would it be? Now that you know, all you have to do is deliver it.

    Upstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals

    Filed Under: Gamechangers

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    About the Author: Jessica Pelt is a Business Advisor and Organizational Consultant. She focuses on improving your organization through design, innovation, effectiveness and operational efficiencies. Jessica's value add is her multi-disciplinary approach to and understanding of organizations, combined with her unique ability to blend concepts and ideas with daily operational requirements.

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