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Act Like the Customer

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world: indeed, it’s all that ever has…” Margaret Meade

I whole-heartedly believe this statement is true!

Having spent the majority of my career in high growth, technology companies, the quote seems to offer me the necessary inspiration to tackle enormous problems with very few resources. Although I’d like to say that competitive pressures or market forces are the primary challenges for growth businesses, what I have learned is quite the opposite. My consulting years have taught me that far more business problems are associated with factors within the control of the business.

Of those controllable factors, there is one common mistake. This error is controllable, and it is a lapse that could have been easily prevented, but the same error appears over and over, regardless of the number of resources, the size of team or the maturity of products:

Failing to close the loop by acting like a customer.

Despite the fact that all of us are customers of some businesses, we often make the mistake of undervaluing the “customer experience” our own customers have. This can arise from a number of reasons: over-confidence in execution of a task, under-appreciation of quality control, or a lack of appreciation for the value of customer experience in the basic decision to “do” business, now and in the future.

Time after time, management tells me they are convinced external forces are holding back their company’s success. Financial pressures have made “a problem” evident, but they have not been able to determine “the problem”. My initial training in computers dictates that I begin my assessment with a fundamental approach to troubleshooting. I engage with the company’s customers, often with push back from management.

This fundamental troubleshooting approach requires me to start by acting like the customer. I attempt to experience what a customer experiences, but with fresh eyes and open ears, and without any preset expectations for the experience. I always approach the “customer experience” anticipating delight, and, in a few instances, I have experienced incredible delight. For those businesses, a market analysis and competitive review is warranted; however, for the majority of business, I learn that improving their customer experience will bring immediate wins by correcting a number of basic block and tackle problems.

Interestingly, almost every organization has had at least one internal person trying to tell others that the customer experience is the root of the company’s problems, but, almost always, the organization diminished that person’s voice.

For me success in business is about making quality as important in the execution of technology projects as the other elements in the timeline. Success begins with budget, making a team responsible for quality review, but success significantly increases with senior support. That senior support can’t be a thinly initiated lip service for the customer experience, but rather a cultural impact. As quality checks continue, the quality folks must be able to stop a project if the issues are significant enough. And, of course, it is all validated when someone within says, “Wait, what about the customer?”, and is actually valued at the table.

One of Jeff Bezos’ most famous acts in the early days of forming Amazon was called “the empty chair”. If you haven’t heard of it, it is worth a Google search.

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