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Do You Realize You Have a Customer? October 15, 2014

Posted by Ann Bertorelli in Coaching, workplace success.
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dear stress

Were you startled by the question that’s the title of this post? If you are in the sales business you probably weren’t. You know you have a customer and you know who it is. But how about if you’re not in sales? Let’s say you’re an engineer, a communications manager, an administrative assistant, a plant manager, or any of thousands of other jobs that are not direct sales. Do you realize that you have a customer in every job you do, every task you complete?

Ignoring This Leads to Breakdowns

Whenever I’ve observed breakdowns in my consulting and coaching work with people, 9 times out of 10 it can be traced back to one of two things. Either the work relationships are in disarray or people are unclear about who the customer of a piece of work is and who’s the performer. Or both. And boy, can that lead to some messy, messy situations.

A Take-Charge Guy

Here’s an example.  Ed was a take-charge kind of guy. He firmly believed that he had the best judgment and approach to solve any problem. As a result, he believed he was the customer of any project—even if he was supposed to be the performer. He would automatically assume the role of customer and start delivering orders and expectations to everyone else. Can you imagine how this might have caused problems? Mostly it p—ed people off. But it also led to a huge case of gridlock in many cases. Because Ed was busy being the customer when he was supposed to be delivering a product, things did not get done in a timely way. And any work team he interacted with grew to be resentful of him and automatically stonewalled his efforts.

Figure Out the Roles

So to avoid the breakdowns when everyone thinks they are the customer or conversely when no one thinks they are the customer, it’s important to figure that out going in to any workflow.

The customer is the one who has made the request and who has a set of expectations and conditions of satisfaction for the final product. The performer is the person who says ‘Yes’ I’ll do that job and I’ll do it using your conditions of satisfaction as my guidelines.

A few years back I was working with Sharon who found herself on a committee that was working on producing some materials for her company. Only problem was that they could not get moving. Every meeting ended with a sense of having accomplished nothing and a lack of where the group was going to go next.

In a coaching session she was moaning about how frustrating it was to work with this group and how she dreaded the meetings. It happened that we were discussing the roles of the customer and the performer at that time, so I asked ‘Who is the customer?’

She couldn’t answer. But she resolved to ask that question at the next meeting. Well, lo and behold…everyone at the meeting thought they were the customer of the work. Amazingly, they were all setting out expectations and wondering why it didn’t happen. Gee, with all the customers in the room there was no one to do the work.

Sharon was amazed and overjoyed when the team was able to move forward once they identified  the customer of the work. Success!

Agreement is Important

All sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is as long as there is agreement about who’s who. That’s the important element. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not. If your boss makes a request of you, easy. If a group of your colleagues gets together and decides to do a project, not so easy. However until you know who the customer is, it’s going to be hard to move forward productively. In such a situation you’ll do a lot of chasing your own tail—better known as wasting your time—until that gets figured out.  And in some cases, it never does. These are the nightmare projects that take months longer than they should and sometimes just die a slow death, leaving everyone involved with a bad taste in their mouth.

The way this agreement gets figured out is to have a conversation about it. What a concept. You mean we should discuss the roles? Yeah, you should, actually you must if you’re going to get things going in the right direction. And while I’m on the topic of conversations, I’d like to give you another post that I did on knowing who you are really having conversations with . With Whom am I Speaking

This is Not Just for Large Projects

There’s a lot more to completing a successful workflow once you have identified the key players, but things fall into place much more easily if you realize that ANY piece of work needs a customer and a performer to make it go. This can be something as simple as updating an email, or deciding what room to use for your next meeting. Or it can be as complicated as installing a new data system in your company.

Any coordination of action between two or more people needs a customer and a performer. Try looking at these roles in some of your current workflows that have gone sideways and see if you don’t find things improving. And when you start a new project or even a small job, make sure everyone is clear on customer and performer.

Relationships That Work, Work That Matters

If you’d like to know more about this topic, there is an entire chapter on workflow and what makes a good one in my book, Relationships That Work, Work That Matters, available on Amazon.