Customer Focus by Everyone

Posted on August 7, 2012  Comments (6)

There are many critical elements to a management system. One that is fundamental, yet still poorly executed far too often, is creating a system where all staff can focus on enhancing value to the customer every day.

If your enterprise does not focus on this, it should. If you think your enterprise does, my first, second and third suggestions are to think more critically about whether it really does. If the answer is yes, then you are lucky to work in such an organization.

Saying that customers are valued is easy. Actually designing systems to focus on providing value and continually improving to provide value more effectively is not. It really shouldn’t be obvious to a customer in 5 minutes of interacting with your organization that it is obvious customers are not very important.

It is very difficult to create a system with customer focus by all staff without several basic supports in place. Respect for people needs to be practiced – not just mentioned. If there isn’t time to work on improvements to the system, often meaning you have the equivalent of sickness management instead of a “health care system” that is a shame. The reality of most organizations seems to be to make it very annoying for customers to even bring an issue they are having to the attention of the organization and even then the gaol is to use the absolute least amount of effort for the band-aid that can be tolerated.

Staff have to be given authority to act in the interest of customers. But this can lead to chaos if a good system isn’t in place to steer this process. And without processes in place to capture (systemically) needed improvements there will be huge waste.


Given staff authority to act is good. But you don’t want staff just slapping on band-aid effectively thousands of times. Systems (documented processes, data collection, training…) have to be in place to let everyone improve systems to improve results. Staff need to not just provide customer value right away they need to determine if the actions they are taking could be better handled by changing the process.

It is very rare, in my experience, to see anything close to what management experts will suggest or leaders claim exists, actually working when the customer comes in contact with the organization.

Go to the gemba as a customer of your organization. I would be surprised if you can’t think of things that would make your experience better. Try to request those improvements and see what happens. If you get a great response that is awesome (but not something I believe will happen often). In some cases it might not work if you try yourself (smaller organizations where you would be recognized and not treated as a normal customer, if so just have a friend try it).

There are lots of details on what should be done to make this work well. But the state of most places I interact with as a customer are so missing in any effort at doing this well that the first steps needed are not tricky. Once you have a few things in place and things are starting to work, read some good ideas and encourage staff to do so and then just adopt ideas from Deming, Ohno, Ackoff, Scholtes… it isn’t hard to do hugely better than what is going on now.

Are your staff really focused on how to provide the most value to customers every day? Or are they just trying to survive the day? How are they encouraged to be thinking of providing customer value? How do managers know if they have created an environment that is encouraging that focus? How are senior executives focused on customers (not just spreadsheets actual customers)?

Often a real challenge to focusing on customers is the much great focus on minimizing costs. In many organization the cost minimization focus is so far ahead of anything else that it is not possible to imagine that it is sensible to value customers instead of seek to stop customers from contacting us in the first place and if they do then do the absolute least that can be done. Reducing costs that don’t provide customer value is good. The abandonment of customer service by most organizations in the name of saving money is lousy.

Related: Engage in Improving the Management SystemChange is not Improvement

6 Responses to “Customer Focus by Everyone”

  1. Nigel Clements
    August 7th, 2012 @ 3:49 am

    Brian Joiner is “Fourth Generation Management” has an excellent chapter entitled “Customer Focused Strategies” which also offers useful ideas on upgrading a management system to ensure that you are genuinely improving continually to provide value more effectively.

  2. John Hunter
    August 7th, 2012 @ 4:03 am

    Thanks Nigel.

    Fourth Generation Management is an excellent book – extremely valuable information presented in an easy to read way (I am biased, Brian is a friend). I highly recommend the book, and great deals are available on the book used, via Amazon.

  3. Robert Drescher
    August 7th, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    Hi John

    You hit the single biggest problem we face in every area of our lives and our economy. Blind cost reduction and blind spending, neither will ever get a business, government or and an individual anywhere.

    We have to be willing to spend in the right places and to cut spending where it does no good. But today most of what I see is increased spending where it does nothing, and cuts to required spending. I have seen countless cuts to actual front line staff in government, and industry, that have the effect of causing more problems because less is getting done than ever before, yet at the same time spending on higher level administrative and support staff.

    Our manufacturing bases’ biggest problem is that we have slashed it to the smallest size in history, yet it now has to carry more overhead than at any point in history. It doesn’t work, yet there are a few examples of companies that are growing their production base, that growth has given them a huge competitive advantage. They spread support overhead over a constantly increasing base.

    Our motto should be right spending, not cost cutting.

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