Understanding your customer

The practical aspects of the voice of the customer are not new, good business people have been listening to their customers for hundreds of years. This has driven innovation, and propelled companies such as Apple from the garage to world recognition in our lifetimes, or at least for those of us over 50. So what are the components of the voice of the customer? Basic to the concept is that the organization must have a customer market network. This means that the organization needs to have its antenna up at all times to understand what is important to the customer today, and as an organization we need to be 3 steps ahead of our customers. If we use the iPod and iPad as examples, Jobs and Apple were thinking beyond their consumers…Sony had the same experience with the Walkman…they created the market that consumers did not know existed. In health insurance, forward looking carriers began paying pharmacies for prescriptions instead of reimbursing its customers almost a decade ago… It’s not rocket science…

So what are the components of the customer market network? It begins by understanding exactly what customers want today, and making sure you understand the current trends. This requires the typical infrastructure of asking customers how we are doing, quantifying our capabilities, and determining where the market place is in relation to the perception of your organization.  Obviously there are organizations such as Gartner that rank outsourcing companies in regards to their performance in the marketplace.  This is not a substitute for getting into the details, and understanding and determining exactly what your customers require from you to drive their operations.

Typically, customers often will not know what is important. Remember, in outsourcing you are the expert. The combination of listening to the customer and understanding the marketplace gives you the current situation; the question that you must ask is: How do you “wow” the customer? Stop thinking about what is and start thinking about what could be. It is a leap of faith to go beyond the current contract and start discussing with the customer what is possible…cost, margins, and renewal possibilities are considerations; the reality is that customers care about what we do for them to make them competitive in their market place. This means that our point of reference is our customer’s perspective…if you have this, then you have a start.

Next, stop being constrained…this means people need permission to “Trystorm.” Yes, I made that up. It means let the team explore the possibilities, and push them a bit along the way. Will it blow the budget! Build it into the budget when the contract is signed…and tell the customer it is part of our commitment to them…This is not new…what would be new is to create a partnership with a customer in which a joint research and development team collaborated to perfect what does not exist. Is it possible when ROI, and breakeven points are a primary concern? Try it, “trystorm,” see what happens.