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Know Your Customer

Posted on July 25th, 2017 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence

Know your customer

It might sound like a strange concept to most of us engineers and technically minded people, but in everything we do, we have a customer (or we are the customer). And stopping to think about the world through that lens every now and again can change everything.

We could take a definition of a customer as being someone who habitually engages in transactions where they are the recipient of a good, service, product or idea from another entity via a financial transaction or some other valuable consideration.

In our work especially, that is a consistent pattern. In most of the things we do, there is a habitual flow of services, products or ideas from one person to others. That is exactly what most of us are employed to do.

While we’re not directly paid for in cash for each idea or service we deliver, we’re certainly paid in other valuable consideration (in which I’d also include a more indirect form of remuneration).

So, if we might, in fact, have customers, who are they? And what are we selling?

Who Is Your Customer?

Most of the time, when we think of a customer, the transaction they’re involved in is straightforward. They receive something, in exchange for cash.

While the customer model does fit most engineering work, the boundaries are usually a little more complex. A project, or product, as a whole tend to have a clearly identifiable customer or group of customers. Ultimately, it’s that group who make everything else possible. It’s that group who end up paying for everything else to happen.

But every smaller part of the whole also has its own customer – every deliverable, every component, every drawing, every report. Every piece of work you do is being delivered to a customer. Quite often that will not be the same as the overall project customers. A lot of the time, your customer might be internal to your organization. Perhaps another department, perhaps your boss, perhaps someone else.

Every time you are delivering something of value (any value at all), you are engaging in a transaction, and you have a customer.

What Does This Mean?

You’ve probably heard it said that “the customer is always right”. While I’m not saying that your boss (or any other customer) is actually always right, there is something in that phrase that’s important to remember.

The real meaning of “the customer is always right” is not that the customer is actually objectively right. Instead, it’s getting at the idea that the customer is the one receiving something valuable, and that catering to their needs is important.

It might be that they are 100% focused on the quality of the product or service they are receiving. But more often, there is a range of important factors too. It’s unlikely that their list of important factors will entirely match yours. There will be a different set of things your customer is concerned about.

In my experience, customers at all levels tend to be focused on outcomes or new capabilities my work has given them, rather than the work itself. Meeting deadlines and being reliable is important too. I’ve found that often, those things are more important than the details (or features) of what I’m delivering. They can even be more important than how polished, or well-finished, my offering is.

Through the customer lens, I wonder if what you deliver or the way you’re delivering it could be improved.

What are the things you’re focussing on too much, which your customer is less concerned about? What are the things your customer really wants? Are your standards on those things at the same level as theirs?

But perhaps before even tackling those questions, can you identify who your customers are? What difference could it make to think of those people as customers, to whom you’re delivering something of value?

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All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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