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Real customer data: listening vs hearing what you want to hear

I think most of us have read of research or seen a political poll that makes us question who conducted it. Sometimes it seems research is done to merely bolster an existing view.

It’s usually because those asking the questions have a tendency to only solicit the data that agrees with their viewpoint or expectations. Those conducting research need to be sure to set aside their personal prejudices and perceptions to ensure they can engage others in conversation and enable open expression without manipulation or coercion.

Survey formTo test this now, ask yourself what you were thinking as you just read the previous two sentences. Were you truly focused on the text? Or were you thinking about something else? For example, you might have been thinking about:

■ what you thought about what was written

■ how you could have written it better

■ why you didn’t agree with what was written

■ how you could relate it to your own situation

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And so it goes.

Data collated from customer surveys is often disappointing, revealing little not already known. Often this is because the organisation has unconsciously been looking only for data it knows how to deal with, even though this does not uncover the true state of service provision.

So remember: if you truly wish to collect data that will tell you the truth about your organisation, learn how to be truly cognisant of what’s important to the other person – don’t just focus on what you want to hear.

Even more importantly, don’t assume that you know your customers. What may seem obvious and able to be taken for granted might turn out to be completely wrong.

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Creating Intelligence Workers for a ‘pull’ organization

The term ‘customer value chain’ has often carried different meanings depending on who is doing the defining.

A customer value chain is not just an arrangement of organisational capabilities aligned end-to-end to perform in a manner suitable to a specific business,(eg: marketing, sales, customer relationship management, service provision, billing, and service development).

A true customer value chain weaves its way through these functions, configured to allow the effortless consumption of goods and services when the customer wants them.

This means removing all the hurdles, barriers and hoops customers typically navigate in order to access the products or services they need.

Put simply, we need to make it easy for customers to ‘pull’ service.

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We are part of a consumer-driven society, where competing on cost no longer ensures survival; customers today demand services that cater to their needs.

A service organisation needs to know the context of the customer’s world. We need not just knowledge workers but intelligence workers.

Sense and Respond: The Journey to Customer Purpose describes how to take the first steps in redesigning the corporate infrastructure, developing intelligence workers who understand customers deeply and know how to diagnose problems in the corporate system.

These staff then have the skills and the confidence to facilitate the systematic and continual evolution of an on-demand or ‘pull’ organisation.

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Shifting the paradigm to a Customer Value Enterprise®

There is a well-known story about a traveller who came upon three individuals working with stone.

Curious as to what the workers were doing, he approached each of them and asked, ‘What are you doing with these stones?’

The first worker quickly responded, ‘I am a stonecutter and am cutting stones’, the second said ‘I am a stonecutter and trying to make enough money to support my family.’

Having two different responses to the same question, the traveller turned to the third worker and put the question to him.

The third worker stopped what he was doing, bringing his chisel to his side. Deep in thought, he mused, ‘I am a stonecutter and am building a cathedral!’

This story is often used to illustrate the need for purpose and meaning in the world of work – the need to be able to see the grand design and feel part of something bigger.

How can one create meaningful and productive work for staff to serve the diverse needs of consumers? Imagine a world in which the worker was not only the stonecutter, but also the architect and the builder – and someone who paid close attention to individual customers’ needs.

Clearly the structures and principles for designing and organising work would need to be fundamentally changed to make this happen.

Many organisations, however, are far from flexible enough to cater to individual customers’ needs. Their infrastructures and systems are set up like those used to produce the cathedrals of old, in keeping with an earlier way of working – a way of working that once helped them to serve their customers, but now hampers them in doing so.

The journey to a Customer Value Enterprise® is neither as difficult nor as hazardous as the process of building a cathedral. If you think about it, working within the mass-production environment is often very difficult and complex due to the desire to make accurate forecasts, to maintain maximum employee activity, and to try to standardise and plan in a world where customer demands and market drivers are creating discontinuous change.

Detailed planning in such an environment is no longer feasible. Trying to maintain a model that has reached the end of its useful life just creates more complexity, frustration and loss of business. In contrast, what we are asking, quite simply, is that organisations understand what customers need and develop systems and processes that can respond on demand.

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So why is it so difficult to create truly customer-focused service organisations capable of catering to the diverse needs of customers? Many organisations fail to comprehend that most of the work they perform does not create value for customers.

We believe that the problem lies in changing the way staff view the nature of service work itself and in changing the way they think and behave in relation to customers.

This requires a reorientation of workforce and management thinking as radical as changing humankind’s thinking from an Earth-centred (self-centred) view of the cosmos, in which everything is seen as revolving around the Earth, to a Sun-centred cosmos, in which everything is seen as revolving around the Sun.

The question organisations need to ask themselves, therefore, is this: do our customers have to spin around our business to get what they want?