thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Viewing Jobs Differently

By on April 28, 2010

What’s the litmus test for knowing if your organization is customer-centered? It's how your employees view their jobs.

One of our clients in the healthcare industry explained how she could recognize the human-centered employees. The employees who are not committed believe the act of serving the consumer is simply “pushing the wheelchair across the room.” The really customer-centered staff members, on the other hand, believe they are “helping the patient to get to the other side of the room.” The act, of course, is the same. However, the closeness and authenticity of the customer connection is much greater with the second.

Most of us have heard the well-known story of the traveler who asks three stone cutters, "What are you doing with these stones?" The first worker responds, "I am a stone cutter and I am cutting stones." The second worker explains, "I am a stone cutter and I am trying to make enough money to support my family." The third worker thoughtfully answered, "I am a stone cutter and I am building a cathedral!" These are clearly three similar workers with three very different views of the bigger picture.

Racecar_lrgI’ve heard many variations on the story. In racing, for instance: “I’m changing a tire vs. I’m helping our team win the race.” In a hospital setting, an orderly whose job is cleaning up after patients: “I help them maintain their dignity. My role is crucial to the healing process.” (Kim Cameron, Positive Leadership).

This feeling is available to organizations in any industry. It’s the mindset embedded throughout the business in which employees don’t believe they are providing a product or service. Instead they go about their work as a facilitator, helping the customers solve their problems.

We all want to carry out meaningful work. That’s what a culture of customer-centricity does for organizations. Tom Kelley, in The Ten Faces of Innovation, describes these personas as “building roles” because they empower people to “stamp their mark on the organization” by building a stronger presence for the customer. They “go beyond mere functionality to connect at a deeper level with customers’ latent or expressed needs…by making services simpler and a lot more human.” It leads to inclusiveness of the customer in the improvement ideas that companies are developing.

Here’s the key. You can give basic Level 1 service without being customer-centered. There have been thousands of books written describing how to make employees more helpful, responsive, and pleasant. To achieve Levels 2 and 3, on the other hand, you need a system, which begins with employees seeing their roles differently than in the past. High-performing organizations have a culture in which “people do not have jobs; they have responsibilities.” (Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors).

Customer-centricity simply doesn’t happen without deeply caring employees who are encouraged to innovate for their customers. It cannot be mandated. It needs to be cultural. They have to feel they are part of building something that is purposeful. Organizations that want to be customer-centered, keep their “finger on the pulse” of employees’ views about the freedom they have to add value to their customers and to grow the relationship with them. Actions will be more customer-centered when employees are part of a culture which is thinking like its customers.

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