Who are My Customers?

Much of what gets noticed about customer care when we are customers, concerns our contact with customer-facing staff such as the sales assistant, the bank cashier, the receptionist and so on.  It can become easy, therefore, for staff who do not regularly come into contact with customers (or who do not see handling customers as a prime part of their jobs) to regard customer care as something which does not affect them directly.  Their organisations would not only lose a significant benefit of customer care but the customer care policies they tried to implement would be superficial indeed.

Consider the most customer-oriented organisation you know.  It might be a well-known international hi-tech corporation, a multi-location department store, a restaurant or even a public utility.  If they are truly customer-oriented they will have discovered something – that caring for customers not only gets them more business, it also makes them more efficient.

This efficiency spreads from the fact that the outward attitude people in the organisation show to customers is only a reflection of the inward attitude they show to each other.  They recognise two critically important facts:

1.      Firstly, that people within an organisation exist within a supplier-customer chain.  Raw materials (be they chemicals, bits of metal, pieces of paper, information or just thoughts) come in at one end, are subject to a series of processes and emerge at the other end as a finished product for which the customer is prepared to pay.
It makes no difference whether your organisation is supplying motor cars, legal advice, advertising ideas or social security payments, the principle is the same.
The business processes by which the raw materials are manipulated involved the organisation’s staff in a series of ‘supplier-customer’ transactions.

Here are two examples:

Example 1 A computer manufacturer buys in a large quantity of electronic parts that go into Store.  The Store personnel confirm their arrival to Accounts so that the supplier’s invoice can be paid.  Store personnel also supply parts, as requested to various sections of the Production Line. The Production Line assembles the parts in microcomputers that are returned to Stores.  Sales people win orders for the micros that they pass to Administrations.  Administration tells Stores to despatch the micros and Accounts to bill the customers.  Transport Department delivers the micros.

Supplier

Customer Item supplied
Stores Accounts
Production Line
Information confirming arrival of parts
Parts for assembly
Production Line Stores Finished micros
Sales AdminCustomer Information to trigger despatch and invoicing
Micro solution
Admin Stores
Accounts
Information to trigger despatch
Information to trigger invoicing
Transport Dept Stores
Sales
Accounts
Ability to ‘close the loop’ – no micros, no kept promises, or cheques

Example 2 A partner in an advertising agency receives a brief from a potential customer.  She discusses it with one of her team of Account Managers to whom she delegates the task of drafting a proposal.  The Account Manager drafts a proposal, has it typed by the secretary he shares with the partner.  The secretary passes the typed proposal to the Partner who makes a few amendments and returns it to her.  The secretary affects the amendments and despatches the proposal to the customer.

Supplier

Customer Item Supplied
Partner Account Manager
Secretary
Potential Customer
Information
Amended draft
Complete draft
Account Manager Secretary
Partner
Handwritten proposal
Draft proposal
Secretary Partner
Account Manager
Typing and despatch service to both

Both examples could easily be expanded to include business processes such as marketing, management accounting, recruitment etc.

2.      The second important fact that people in customer-oriented organisation recognise is that the quality of service they provide the person next in the business process line affects the quality of service the real customer eventually receives.  ‘Friday afternoon’ motor cars are a prime example.

So, determine who your customers are and even if it is only a colleague in the next office treat them with the same respect, efficiency and responsiveness that you would accord to a ‘real’customer.