Customer Focus

Posted on July 9, 2012  Comments (3)

Customer Focus is at the core of a well managed company. Sadly many companies fail to serve their customers well. To serve customers, a thorough understanding of what problem you solve for customers is needed. The decisions at many companies, unfortunately, are far removed from this understanding.

It is hard to imagine, as you are forced to wind your way through the processes many companies squeeze you through that they have paid any attention to what it is like to be a customer of their processes. When you see companies that have put some effort into customer focus it is startling how refreshing it is (which is a sad statement for how poorly many companies are doing).

If the decision makers in a company are not experiencing the company’s products and services as a customer would that is a big weakness. You need to correct that or put a great amount of energy into overcoming that problems.

Another critical area of customer focus is to know how your customers use your products. It isn’t enough to know how you want your products to be used. Or to know the problems you intended people to use your products for. You need to know how people are actually using them. You need to know what they love, what they expect, what they hate, and what they wish for. This knowledge can help offset experiencing the products and services yourselves (in some cases getting that experience can be quite difficult – in which case you need to put extra effort into learning the actual experience of your customers).

You cannot rely on what people tell you in surveys. You need to have a deep understanding of customers use of the products. Innovation springs from this deep understanding and your expertise in the practice of delivering services and building products.

One of my favorite improvement tips is to: ask customers what 1 thing could we do better. It is very simple and gives you an easy way to capture what customers really care about. You shouldn’t rely only on this, but it is an extremely powerful tactic to use to aid continual improvement (with customer focus).

Related: Delighting CustomersThe Customer is the Purpose of Our WorkCustomer Focus and Internet Travel Search


One, of many, ways to know if company cares about customer focus is how they handle customer support. Do they outsource support (telephone and email)? That is a bad sign. Do they try to drive down those costs? Another bad sign. Do they have a very solid program to mine the customer experience information they could learn from these encounters? That is a very good sign. And extremely rare. Do they make improvements weekly, monthly, daily based upon feedback from customers calls?

For front line employees, how much emphasis is placed on helping the organization learn from what those employees see customers doing? This is a huge potential source of information. Making effective use of it is often determined by the strength of management system. High turnover makes this hard. It is hard to optimize this with dis-repected employees. If managers are driven by cost reduction pressures instead of optimizing the system this will also make customer focus difficult (reducing waste is good, but cost reduction plans are often extremely poorly conceived – if you care about customer focus).

3 Responses to “Customer Focus”

  1. Robert Drescher
    July 9th, 2012 @ 11:06 am

    John nice point on knowing what you provide to your customers.

    Personally one comopany that does this exceptionally well is the old dinosaur in a dinosaur industry that most compoetitors have bailed out of, that being Arm and Hammer. Baking Soda is not a sexy industry, noir was it ever very profitable, but Arm and Hammer has managed to gain thousands of uses for a simple product, by simply finding out how their customers use it. That simple practise has allowed them to introduce dozens of new products, even as the use of their product for baking has declined. At the turn of the century families bought 1 or 2 boxes of baking soda a year, today they buy double that on average, then add to that all the other baking soda based products they sell and you have a company that by knowing their customers, and learning from them has massively expanded their market.

    Their added bonus was that the product development efforts they undertook, where based not on guessing what the needs of the customer where, but based on supplying the customer a new product that better meet the existing customer use of their product. You can guess that it is far easier to successfully launch a new product, when you have aligned your self with the actual known need of your customer.

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