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Customer Focus

This post is actually a response I gave to a blog from the ITtoolbox.  The gentleman I was responding to takes the position that companies may believe themselves to be customer focused when in fact they fail to take into consideration what the customer wants.  Seems fairly obvious but he is correct.  It isn’t unusual for executives to not understand who their customers are and still  believe they are customer focused. 

 

But the author of the original post and I quickly diverged when it came to how we see the organization.  It is his contention that the organization (especially in those companies that view its employees as their number one asset) should drive the design of the processes.  Read on to see how his opinion may contradict his own view of being customer focused.

 

There is one more point I want to make before you begin reading this blog.  I view publicly-held companies, privately-owned businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations and even departments to be basically the same.  Each one of those entities has customers they are serving and processes they are executing.  As you read through my response don’t think it does not apply to you if you don’t work in a ‘business’ – these ideas do relate to you.   

 

 

I agree with your initial premise that a value chain that does not consider the customer is in trouble.  How can a company believe it is customer focused if it does not take the time to define and quantify the expectations of the customer and take into consideration what the competition is offering?

 

How a business is designed will determine whether it is customer focused and plays a huge part in its level of performance.  I know this to be true since I am a business architect.  I provide customized business design tailored to reach the goals of my customers.  In order to do that I have to understand all the components of a business and how they relate to each other.

 

Business designs have 5 components:

Ø      Capstone – all strategic information about the business

o       Internal:  Vision; Mission; Values; Principles; Goals; Business Strategies, etc.

o       External:  The competitive environment (trends, obstacles, risks, critical business issues, …).  Designs that do not take into consideration the competitive environment are flawed.  It is a big mistake to not understand the context in which your business exists.  A once robust design can become quickly obsolete if the context (environment) changes.  As Joel Barker once said:  “When the paradigm shifts everyone starts back at zero.”

Ø      Market Model

o       Here is where your perspective comes into play.  Business leaders need to understand what each market place is looking for from products and services being sold into that market.  Leaders must take the time to define the expectations of customers and then quantify them.  Vague and arbitrary requirements do not provide good input into product development.

o       Here is where we appear to diverge.  Business leaders have to understand if their existing Market Model can deliver on the growth goals of the company.  The Capstone creates the performance requirements for the Market Model.  The performance requirements for the Market Model are not arbitrary.

o       If the Market Model is not designed to achieve the growth goals then either the goals need to be adjusted or the design needs to be updated.  By having defined and quantified the expectations of the customers it is possible to analyze whether one’s offerings to the market place need to be redesigned.  This is being customer focused – you are delivering what the market wants.

Ø      Process Model

o       Input – Process – Output.  Every business has processes to fulfill the demand for its products and services.  Those processes do affect how the customer is being served.  All of the processes performed by a company are considered to be its Process Model.

o       Here is where we definitely differ.  The Process Model receives its performance requirements from the Market Model.  For instance, if the market place establishes a two week lead time your business will not be competitive with a four week lead time.  You will have to reengineer your processes to deliver on the promises made to your customers.  This is in keeping with being customer focused.

o       Your processes will determine what skills, talents, knowledge and experience you need in your organization.  Therefore processes create performance requirements for organizations.

Ø      Organizational Model

o       Processes are executed by the organization.  As mentioned previously the design the Organizational Model receives its performance requirements from the Process Model.  If the business needs to outsource some of its work and has never done that before then new skills such as Vendor Management and Service Level Agreements will be need to be executed and either the existing staff will be trained or experienced personnel will be brought in.

o       Process designs should factor in the skills of the organization but the company should not under deliver to the market place due to inabilities of the organization.  If you under deliver to the market place your sales will suffer accordingly. 

o       The organization needs to be designed in order to execute the processes that deliver its products/services and achieves the strategic goals of the company.  The models are all connected and when designed to support each other the business can actually achieve alignment.  Alignment has to be designed into an organization.

Ø      Systems Model

o       The organization uses systems to execute the processes.  Many executives start with systems and work backwards.  This is the reason why there are so many dissatisfied business leaders.  They are applying a new system to an outdated business design. 

o       Will changing the dashboard in your car have an effect on the design of your car?  Investing in new IT systems before updating the overall business design can only bring marginal improvements.

 

Designing a business is a cascading process and if you are changing your processes or organization before defining and quantifying the goals of the company and the design of the Market Model then you can not consider your company to be ‘customer focused’ and you can not know if your goals are even achievable. 

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