Understand your customer

Passionately understanding our customer is a common rally cry of organisations. Although it is easier said than done. Groups responsible for delivering something for a customer think often in terms lik “they need to understand the technical complexity, process dependency, or compliance regulations” The issue that currently presents the biggest roadblock is in the forefront of the mind. In other words they want the customer to know how difficult or complex it actually is what they want. Viewing the need from an outside in perspective is the common approach overcoming this hurdle. It can still yield a limited result:

In a post  4 weeks ago Michael Michalko used this example of Toyota:

A few years back, Toyota asked employees for ideas on how they could become more productive. They received few suggestions. They reworded the question to: “How can you make your job easier?” They were inundated with ideas.

In this case Toyota’s customers were their own employees. The management who phrased the initial question had the best intention but not the same mindset as their work force. They needed to change the wording to get engagement. The original question was too abstract for the audience and not specific enough. The reworded attempt appealed to the knowledge and desire of every individual.

The same applies to us. In ICT we often mean well and inform the users of ICT systems when we change, update, or add things. We do this because people tell us they are not informed and ICT should communicate more. The result couldn’t be more destructive! In a review how well we do, we got told

  • ICT’s global messages are spam
  • the information is intended for specific user groups but send to a far larger audience
  • the information is written in IT language and not with the customer’s world in mind

That was quite a strong message. As a result we consult with the stakeholders well in advance and review the resulting information we want to share:

Is the content expressed brief, concise and in terms the audience use?

To actually do this we need to understand our customers, how they work and use our systems, and what their objectives and constraints are. There are plenty of options and opportunities to do this and we actively explore these. Most importantly we acknowledged:

Understanding comes before being understood.

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