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Who's Your Real Customer? Listen For it...

November 14, 2011

Clarity of Purpose

A couple of weeks ago a reader commented on how their team suddenly gelled and had a new-found clarity to their team's mission once they worked through who their real customer was. In their case, it turned out that their customer was an internal group - someone we might normally define as a "colleague". This is sometimes hard to manage, in part because everyone wants to feel like they are close to "the" customer and in part because in some business cultures it is just difficult to treat a "colleague" that way for a number of reasons - you might have been trained to think of them as a competitor, or there just might be a sense of "territory" around your relationship.

When "Up" is Not Where You Want to Go...

First, let's be clear about one thing regarding the "internal" customer - your manager is NOT your customer. But how often does the workplace feel that way? In companies where everyone is worried first about pleasing their manager, "Customer-First" does not exist. It simply won't get the oxygen it needs to thrive. If you work for an internal team that supports other teams in your business (i.e. a Sales support team, or an IT team, etc.), then you need to think about how to reposition your relationship with some of your colleagues as a customer relationship. It does not mean you become super-formal with them. But it does mean you need to re-prioritize how you collect and process the inputs you have to perform at a high level. In these situations, an internal customer is no different than an external one - the greatest service you could give them is to show that you are listening.

"Lend Them Your Ear!" - not corny, just practical.

So "Who is my customer?" is most easily defined by "To whom should I be dedicating most of my listening time?" If you answered "My manager", then it might be time to run for the hills. You won't succeed there as a "Customer-First" champion. But if you think about the people who stand to benefit most from the service you provide, those will also be the same people with the most relevant inputs you will need to be successful. A successful "Customer-First" manager would be the one to recognize this and give you all the support you need to have the right connections to the right people you need to be listening to. After all, you are her customer!

One important thing to remember is that one should not feel any downside, stigma or sense of "emptiness" from discovering that your true customer is an internal colleague or a team of them thousands of miles away. You are part of making a "Customer-First" machine hum in the engine room, and for the external customer, a company that treats its own internal people as customers will always provide a superior experience. The snazziest design of car in the world won't ever get a repeat sale if the engine didn't meet the same standard!

Next Week: What does the "Customer-First" org model look like? The diagram revealed...