Customers

Is client the same as 'customer'?

The terms are usually synonymous. Just as customers can be differentiated by their roles with a product (end-users, brokers and fixers), so can clients. Each industry or profession uses “client” uniquely. In human services and health care, client can mean the same as patient. It can reveal power roles. In business services like accounting, consulting and advertising, client can refer to the organizational entity being served. Some people speak of clients as those organizations and individuals with whom they have an on-going relationship while customers are viewed as those with whom they have a limited number of transactions. I see no practical difference between client and customer. Just be sure to know who the end-users for your products are.

Isn't my boss my most important customer?

Not necessarily. This question carries an implied threat: if my boss isn’t happy with me, I could be replaced. It is always important to satisfy those who we depend on. However, we can depend on the boss without the boss being a customer. The customer role is always determined by a specific product. If your boss has asked for a report from you on a certain topic, then the boss is a customer of yours regarding the report. What type of customer he/she is depends on the purpose for the boss receiving the report. The options are:To use it to achieve a desired result – End-User, To represent the interests of you, the producer, to someone else who will use it – Broker, To approve it – Inspector, To transfer it to someone else who will use it, representing their interests – Broker, and To modify or correct it for the benefit of an end-user – Fixer.

How do you get customers to tell you what they want?

The short answer: ask them. Interviews, focus groups, direct observations and surveys are four common methods. I strongly recommend interviews, focus groups, and direct observations of end-user customers instead of surveys for several important reasons. Of most importance is that interviews, focus groups and observations can provide rich qualitative information about any gaps between customer expectations and experiences which cannot be collected in the highly structured survey approach. No matter what approach is used, the wrong questions asked the wrong way of the wrong people will yield information of dubious value at best and harmful information (for the producer who acts on it) at worst. If you could ask a customer only four questions, the following are what I recommend, in the order shown. Assume you are interested in designing or improving a manual.

If you could change one thing about this manual, what would it be?

A satisfying manual is one which results in: __________________________________

A satisfying manual does not result in: __________________________________

A satisfying manual is one which is: __________________________________

Question 1 allows customers to identify priority dissatisfiers. Questions 2 and 3 will identify expectations about outcomes. Question 4 will reveal expectations about product functions.

You put almost exclusive emphasis on satisfying end-users. Aren't the other customers important, too?

All customers are important and our goal must be to satisfy them all. However, I have observed that producers of both internally and externally consumed products consistently favor the interests of brokers over end-users and fixers. This situation is less a matter of making a conscious decision than a matter of default.

There are several reasons this occurs:

  • Producers may be confused about who the end-users of a product are. Differentiation of customers into the end-user, broker and fixer roles can solve this problem.
  • Producers may not have direct contact with the end-users.

Customers can have competing interests. Producers may choose to satisfy certain expectations over others, based on the power of the customer.

A customer’s relative power flows from four common characteristics: The Four P’s Of Power

  1. Position – Level of person in an organization’s structure
  2. Purse strings – Those who are perceived to have the money get preferential treatment
  3. Proximity – Those who are closest to, or have the most contact with, the producer

Personality – Those with most personal persuasiveness

These characteristics are often those of brokers, not end-users. The emphasis on satisfying end-users is intended to counteract possible short-term thinking on the part of producers and encourage them to do those things which will enhance their leadership position.

End-users always win in the long run.

Isn't it valuable to know that 95 percent of our customers are satisfied?

There is some value to that, but what action will you take knowing that 95 percent of your customers are satisfied? Do you know why they are satisfied? If that number dropped to 80 percent would you know why? Do you know why the other 5 percent are not satisfied? Do you know why some customers choose your competitors rather than you?

How can I figure out who my customers really are?

STEP
1. Name the specific product. (For example: a training manual on creativity)
2. Name the end-users of this product: the people who will personally use the product to achieve some desired outcome. (For example: course participants)
3. Name the brokers for this product.(For example: instructor)
4. Name the fixers of this product. (For example: course participants, instructor, participant’s boss)

Steps 2-4 will identify your customers for a specific product as well as the primary role they play with that product.

Customer Expectations

Is there a way to find out what customers want that isn't so expensive for the organization and time consuming for the customers? Nobody fills out surveys anymore.

We need to be careful about our assumptions. Finding out what customers want is expensive. For example, which is more expensive: meeting with customers to discuss their priorities, or developing a product without customer input that never sells? The cost to an organization of not knowing customer priorities far outweighs any costs incurred in discovering those priorities. In Video 4 of the Creating a Customer-Centered Culture® Video Series, we discuss a method for uncovering customer expectations that is both efficient and quick. We may assume customers won’t take the time to talk with us. If by talking with us you mean the traditional customer satisfaction survey, then you are right. However, if we truly engage the customer in a dialogue about what they want and what is important to them, we have found in fact, that you can’t keep the customers quiet. The trick is to ask the right question, at the right time of the right people, in the right way.

Customer Roles

Can a person or group have more than one role with a product?

Certainly. Small business managers are traditionally known to “wear many hats.” Most of us do this too, under differing circumstances. View the hats as roles. Such a person can be a producer, broker and fixer. Even though this role mix is common, there is usually one role that consumes the most time or has the main priority. Remember that roles are always defined in relation to a specific product.

Innovation

Is it better to focus on performance or perception attributes of a product?

Ask your end-user customers.

Why is it important to focus on a product's "functional" attributes first, rather than content or "features" attributes?

The functional attributes represent the Voice-of-the-Customer: the customer’s statements of desires for the product. When we begin thinking of the product at this level, we assure the broadest inclusion of customer wants. It encourages divergent thinking. If we skip this and go directly to features, we’re likely to reinforce our natural convergent thinking and miss breakthrough potentials. It is much easier for both producers and customers to come up with ideas for new features than to rethink alternatives to an existing product. If we really want to think outside the box, we need to understand the customers’ desired outcomes before even considering questions about the current product(s).

Outcomes

What are some examples of outcomes?

Outcomes are broad, global statements of customers’ purpose for working with us. They include things like:

  • Health Productivity Success
  • Profit Mobility Confidence
  • Security Freedom Happiness
  • Market share Customer satisfaction

Outcomes do not refer to characteristics of products like ease of use, timeliness, accuracy, no defects, etc. Outcomes answer the question, “Why do customers want our product/service?”

Product

Can a person or group have more than one role with a product?

Certainly. Small business managers are traditionally known to “wear many hats.” Most of us do this too, under differing circumstances. View the hats as roles. Such a person can be a producer, broker and fixer. Even though this role mix is common, there is usually one role that consumes the most time or has the main priority. Remember that roles are always defined in relation to a specific product.

Why is it important to focus on a product's functional attributes first, rather than content or features attributes?

The functional attributes represent the Voice-of-the-Customer: the customer’s statements of desires for the product. When we begin thinking of the product at this level, we assure the broadest inclusion of customer wants. It encourages divergent thinking. If we skip this and go directly to features, we’re likely to reinforce our natural convergent thinking and miss breakthrough potentials. It is much easier for both producers and customers to come up with ideas for new features than to rethink alternatives to an existing product. If we really want to think outside the box, we need to understand the customers’ desired outcomes before even considering questions about the current product(s).

Is knowledge a product?

No, it is either an outcome or a resource. Knowledge may be an outcome the customer obtains by using products like courses, reports, articles, etc. Knowledge can also be the resource or raw material used to create a product. Unless knowledge is packaged into discrete units, it is not a product.

We are used to improving our activity or processes. Isn't identifying the products we produce just an exercise in semantics?

Not at all. We are trying to separate three very different concepts: process, product, and outcome. Most improvement initiatives make no distinction between the three. We are trying hard to find the products we produce for several reasons:

  • Customers don’t care about our process (activity). Rather, they care about what we give them that can help them achieve their desired outcome. What we give them is the product.
  • Products focus on our vision outward towards the customer. When we work on process or activity, we are trying to improve how we do what we do. Again, how we do our work is of little relevance to the customer.
  • By identifying our work as tangible products, we make improvement efforts more concrete. We have a very specific deliverable that we can talk to customers about. We can measure it and improve it. It is far easier to get customer feed back on a quality improvement workshop than it is on “training.”
What is the definition of a product?

A product is something created by work which can be given to someone else to achieve a desired outcome. It is:
(1) Expressed as something which can be made plural with an “s”,
(2) A deliverable,
(3) Packaged in countable units,
(4) Very specific.

What are examples of a product?

These are examples of internally-consumed products. To make them fit the criteria of a product, just make them very specific. A plan could be a strategic plan, a landscape plan, and manufacturing plan, etc. Be specific.
For example, a plan, course, design, procedure, policy, presentation, speech, report, recipe, proposal, greeting, an invoice, a diagram, design, delivery, meeting, an answer, a contract, schedule, manual, diagnosis, or a program.

What are examples of items that are confused with products?

ACTIVITIES: Consulting, teaching, problem-solving, coaching, designing, transportation, meeting, planning, fixing
FUNCTIONS: Engineering, marketing, purchasing
OUTCOMES: Relationships, satisfaction, wealth, solutions, health, skills, knowledge, vision
CHARACTERISTICS OF PRODUCTS OR PROCESSES: Capacity, volume, value, quality, speed, predictability
SERVICE: See activity/process
UNPACKAGED PARTS OF PRODUCTS: Ideas, concepts, data, goals, information

Surveys

You advocate limited use of surveys, but we conducted a survey and gathered really good information from our customers. Are you saying that was a waste of time?

Any effort to understand our customers can be valuable. It is most helpful when it leads to improvement. If you were able to focus improvement efforts based on what customers said, then it was valuable.

Is there a way to find out what customers want that isn't so expensive for the organization and time consuming for the customers? Nobody fills out surveys anymore.

We need to be careful about our assumptions. Finding out what customers want is expensive. For example, which is more expensive: meeting with customers to discuss their priorities, or developing a product without customer input that never sells? The cost to an organization of not knowing customer priorities far outweighs any costs incurred in discovering those priorities. In Video 4 of the Creating a Customer-Centered Culture® Video Series, we discuss a method for uncovering customer expectations that is both efficient and quick. We may assume customers won’t take the time to talk with us. If by talking with us you mean the traditional customer satisfaction survey, then you are right. However, if we truly engage the customer in a dialogue about what they want and what is important to them, we have found in fact, that you can’t keep the customers quiet. The trick is to ask the right question, at the right time of the right people, in the right way.

How do you create a good survey?

Our experience has been that any survey created without the C3 context is likely to be of reduced value to those seeking to take action. In any event, you will want to be certain that any customer satisfaction survey does the following:

  1. Organizes questions by specific product (as defined in the article on our web site, “Creating Total Customer Satisfaction”. If this is not done, the responses are likely to be too generic to act on.
  2. Differentiates the respondents into discrete demographic groups. If this is not done, you can expect the voice of the broker (supervisors, managers and business owners) to drown out the voice of the end-user.
  3. Obtains a prioritization of products from respondents. If this is not done, it will be easy to conclude that (a) all products are equally important and (b) products have the same importance for end-users as for brokers.
  4. Specifically uncovers priorities for key products regarding their intended outcomes, undesired outcomes and functional characteristics.
What would differentiate C3E from other firms who offer to develop a satisfaction survey?
  • Our aim is to measurably improve your customers’ success so your organization prospers. We are in the leadership business (yours), not the survey business. Surveys are merely one tool we use to achieve and sustain leadership.
  • The survey(s) we would develop with you would be integrated with your strategic priorities and your balanced scorecard and other measures of success.
  • We start the buy-in process with management and opinion-leading employees at the beginning of the project, not at the end. We do this with a fast-paced, provocative and interactive workshop outlining C3 concepts. This creates a mind shift and compelling reason to focus on customers differently.
  • The C3 principles and methods for uncovering and satisfying customers’ emerging expectations are available nowhere else. The C3 system has been developed over twenty-five years and has proven so effective that we have repeatedly been able to produce stunning tangible results.
  • I mentioned that any firm offering to create a survey for you should be able to achieve at least a 3-to-1 return on investment within 12 months of survey completion. Our own results have significantly exceeded that. One firm saved over $1 million as a direct result of a survey we created.
  • We is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. In fact, it is our stock in trade. Helping your organization become the preferred candlemaker may not be good enough. We also seek to help you explore becoming the first light bulb maker.

Vital Lies

Why do people believe vital lies?

All assumptions, vital lies and others, enable us to avoid thinking about things that are already “settled” in our minds. The vital lies come in to play to defend ourselves against the necessity to change more stuff in an already turbulent work (or personal) life. They provide a sedating function for initiative. Challenging closing held or unexamined beliefs can often create cognitive dissonance. This is equivalent to turning the rudder on a boat. The pressure of rushing water now on one side of the rudder tries to push it back into its previous no-resistance position. That one-sided pressure is like the vital lies, wanting to return us to our comfort position. In our workshops, we hold the tiller fast until the boat is in the new direction. Then, the no-pressure position is simultaneously comfortable but we are pointed toward a new destination.

Voice of the Customer

What are some examples of performance expectations?

Very specifically worded objective statements that have a unit of measure associated with them. Examples include:

  • The number of minutes to complete a form
  • The number of days from the time a question is asked until it is answered
  • The number of dollars spent to satisfy complaints
  • The percentage of orders received on the promised ship date, etc.