Mission customer focus
“Market – the place where supply and demand for a defined good meet. Economically, it is a gathering of potential sellers and buyers, of companies and customers”. So I remember the definition of the market given by my business administration teacher in 1989. Dealing with customers and their needs is everything, but nothing new for companies. Customer focus is part of the DNA of organisations. It drives ideas and products, cooperations and business models. So, what is the purpose of the demand for customer focus, which is continuously repeated in countless articles and posts? And why is this demand right and important?
Most companies were and are founded with the intention of offering a product or service to customers in order to make money. That was in 1989, that is in 2019 and it will probably be in 2049. If there are now calls for (more) customer focus, it is almost as if someone were asking you to breathe. You can’t survive without breathing air. That sounds rather banal, but the context of the statement reveals a serious background: if you are asked to breathe, you may find yourself in a moment of shock rigidity, in a situation that overwhelms you, or in an environment where a lot of information and challenges are pelting down on you. So “breathe” would be an indication to reflect on something very elemental: Breathing air. Everything else is secondary. And the same applies to the demand for customer centricity. It is an appeal to concentrate on the breathing air for companies: the customers.
Initiatives in companies
Do you know companies that deal with one of the following topics?
Agility and Agile Transformation
Modern Leadership and Allrounder Executive
Hierarchy Reduction, Eye Level and Corporate Democracy
New Work and Independent Employment
New Pay and Transparency
Working out Loud
Fear and Courage
Mindset and Mindchange
The list of such initiatives is relatively easy to extend. (And you will find interesting posts on many of the topics in our blog.) Regardless of the fact that companies change continuously (transformation is a constant), are there such or similar efforts in your organisation? Good, because work in companies, our lives in general, our values and attitudes are changing. And such initiatives take this into account.
Do you notice anything on the list? Nowhere does the word “customer” appear. Perhaps the customers are hidden under one or the other term – the digital transformation, for example, could be based on the expectations of your customers – but a large part of the topics focus on employees, cooperation in the organisation, change within companies. Isn’t it amazing that in times of competitive markets and seemingly comparable services, most buzzwords are aimed at the inside of an organisation? Should this alone be reason enough why the demand for customer centricity makes sense?
The desired intention of an initiative
What is the goal of a corporate initiative? That is the first question that needs to be answered. It is an important question that all those involved in the initiative must be able to answer. Without a clear goal – no, more precisely: without a clear, common goal – an initiative is doomed to failure. Identifying the common goal is anything but easy, because goals vary. You are probably pursuing a different goal than your colleague, who expects something different than her superior, and whose goal conflicts with his colleague’s ideas. In fact, defining the goal is a process, and as the number of participants increases, the challenges to identifying the common goal increase. Here a so-called goal diagram can help as a means of expression to visualise individual goals, the relationships between goals and the relationships between participants and their goals.
And how do participants know that the common goal has been achieved? This is the second important question that needs to be clarified. Can a number be defined for the goal that is to be achieved? Should scenarios be defined in which the desired changes are applied? In the context of requirements one would speak of “acceptance criteria”, which are used to check that the desired results are achieved.
What is the third key question for a business initiative? Now that you are reading a post on customer focus, the answer is probably obvious: What do your customers get out of the initiative? How do your customers notice that something is changing for them – hopefully for the better? Even if an initiative of an organisation is directed inwards, the customer should also feel something of the desired change. If, for example, you want to introduce more flexible working hours in your company and thus enable parents to pick up children during the “normal” working hours from the day care centre or school, then this could lead to parents working several hours in the evening instead and hence being available as contact persons for your customers beyond the “normal” working hours. Your customer would also benefit from flexible working hours. Or: Perhaps you are introducing a rolling workstation model in which support staff work one day a week on the development of software. This makes the individual’s work more interesting and diversified, and he or she can answer enquiries even better from now on thanks to the additional “insights”.
Three questions are therefore important:
- What is the common goal of the initiative?
- How do you know that the common goal has been achieved?
- What do your customers get out of it?
If you can’t answer these questions, the corporate initiative is very likely to go up in smoke. Look for answers to these questions and if you only get statements like “Don’t ask. You know the answer!” or “We want to be better and become more agile” then you will know how seriously you can take the initiative …
The User Experience at a glance
You probably know the term User Experience. It is a term that focuses on a user’s experience using a product, system, or service. The term is defined in DIN EN ISO 9241, an international standard that lays down guidelines for human-computer interaction, as follows: “A person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service.”
Of course, “user experience” does not only exist in human-computer interaction. A user is a person, a customer, a human being. He or she perceives things and collects experiences. A positive user experience is essentially the goal of customer centricity. And the good thing about such a goal is that it is relatively easy to achieve. Here are two small examples:
Example 1: Check-in at a hotel
When you check into a hotel, what usually happens right after the welcome? In 99% of hotels you will be asked to enter your details in a registration form. You are often told that you don’t have to fill in all the fields, just your name, address and identity card number, perhaps your date of birth and the registration number of the car you drove into the parking lot. That’s generous, isn’t it? And what do you get as a guest from giving your data to the hotel? Probably relatively little. What does the hotel get out of it? If, for example, you don’t subscribe to the newsletter, it’s relatively little. Your data ends up in the hotel’s system after it has been transferred manually. Now the system knows that you live in Berlin and spend the night in a hotel in Munich. Congratulations. If you are staying in the hotel for the second time, there may be a vague chance of a room upgrade. Question: Why do you have to fill out the registration form? If the hotel and its employees want data from you, why don’t the receptionist takes the data from your identity card? The management of the hotel wants something from you and you have to make it possible. As a customer, are you the centre of attention here?
Example 2: Boarding pass for a flight
Recently, I was able to follow a communication on Twitter about an airline’s boarding pass.¹ A boarding pass contains a wide variety of information that you as a passenger are not normally interested in. There are codes, there are abbreviations and there are also hidden hints for flight safety. In fact, you will also find some information for you on the boarding pass: the departure time, your seat number and the gate where you should arrive at a defined time at the latest. The gate and time are often manually underlined or encircled by ground staff with a pen to make it easier for you to find your way around. Question: What would a boarding pass look like that focuses on the passenger – you? Like this:
How can you focus more on your customers?
What do you do if you don’t work in the hotel or aviation industry but want to focus more on your customers? It would certainly make more than sense if you included the customer and his potential advantages in your considerations for existing initiatives. It might also make sense to think about a “Customer Centring Initiative”, but initiatives take time, they cost money and effort. Maybe it’s just one size smaller: with a “customer focus mission”. Your personal mission. For a singlie customer or all of your customers. For the department for which you are developing something. For the potential client for whom you are preparing an offer. For the user who does not find a function in your software or does not use it properly.
You can certainly easily follow the two examples from the hotel or with the boarding pass. Even if the implementation of a change in practice is of different complexity, my appeal behind the examples is simple: Put yourself in the shoes of your customers! Look for simplifications for your customers. Accelerate processes for your customers! Help your customers! Today. And tomorrow. And again the day after tomorrow. Your customers will thank you for it. That is the reason why the demand for customer focus is right and important. And perhaps your personal mission of customer focus will soon even become an initiative of your organisation.
 The tweet in question comes from John Meister @politikmeister.
Head of Marketing, t2informatik GmbH
Michael Schenkel is a graduate business economist and is passionate about marketing. He has a certificate for excellent hiking characteristics, Odenwaldtour in classes 6a/6b and since 1984 the Seahorse. He likes to blog about requirements engineering, project management, stakeholders and marketing. And he will certainly be delighted if you meet him in the real world for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake or for a virtual get-together.