(This excerpt is from The Baldrige Edge, an e-Guide from Baldrige.com. You can learn more about the guide by clicking on the black-and-red box on the right.)
Your organization exists to serve people, as does your department and your work group. Without customers, external and internal, you don’t have a job. Without satisfied, even delighted, customers, your job—and your organization—may be in danger.
In the course of a day’s work, it’s easy for the customer to disappear from the discussion, and that is an opportunity for you. We’ve already talked about process thinking (Smart Question #1) and the fact that everything you do, and everything your group, team, or department does, is part of one or more processes. The final step in each process is the delivery of something to the customers of that process. I’ll give you a few examples:
- You deliver end-of-the-month financial results to leadership. The leaders are the customers of this reporting process.
- You deliver training to employees. The employees are your customers, as are the leaders responsible for developing your workforce.
- You deliver products to customers through distributors. Both the end users of your products and the distributors are your customers.
- You deliver information to people who contact your call center, so they’re your customers, right? Absolutely—but you may also have other customers such as leaders who expect you to meet certain performance levels and internal departments that want to know why people are calling.
Part of the answer to our first smart question about the process involves considering who the customers of the process are and what they require. If you then ask our second question about your findings—how do we know that?—you often discover that you don’t. Common knowledge is a poor replacement for verifiable facts and yet, most organizations assume they know what their customers require without ever really checking.
That brings us to our third smart question: Who are our customers and what do they require?
Let’s say you’re in a meeting and the group has been bumbling around for what seems like an eternity trying to prioritize the issues in front of it. Ask the question—Who are our customers and what do they require?—because being clear about who you are serving and what they expect can determine your priorities. Remember, your department and your group and the processes you are discussing exist to serve customers. Meeting their requirements comes first.
But don’t stop there. As soon as you ask the question, people are going to volunteer their opinions, which may or may not have anything to do with who you are actually serving and what they actually require. Opinions are not facts, no matter how confidently they are presented. If your group accepts them as facts, if you assume that you know what your customers require without the evidence to support it, everything that follows is built on a shaky foundation. Your priorities are suspect, your plans are suspect, and the likelihood that things will improve is suspect.
So ask, “Who are our customers?” and “What do our customers require?” and then ask, “How do we know that?” (Smart Question #2)
If these questions trigger that “deer in the headlights” stare, you will need to be prepared to lead a discussion of why reliable knowledge of customer requirements is important and how you can go about acquiring that knowledge. You can learn how to do that by reading The Baldrige Edge, which is free by signing up in the box on the right.