Tools & Consulting for the webMethods® platform

Tools & Consulting for the webMethods® platform

My approach to customer value

Here is what I do for creating true customer value and how obstacles are dealt with. The approach is universal, simple, and powerful.

Today I would like to tell you a little bit about my approach to create value for customers. It is just one very simple thing you have to do:

Put yourself into the customer’s shoes.

That’s all. So I could stop right here and wish you good luck implementing this :-).

But there are a few impediments, which is why I continue. Let me share a few thoughts on things I have seen jeopardize this powerful approach.

Silo-thinking

It is really fascinating how this subject is still “alive and kicking”. I first learned about it in university more than twenty years ago. Topics were process-orientation, activity-based costing, matrix organizations, etc. All those approaches are basically an attempt to overcome silo-thinking, and have been out there for over thirty years.

But at the end of the day it comes down to individuals and how they handle this. I can either take the easy way and tell myself and others that a given problem is someone else’s job, and that “someone” should do something about it. Or I can take the initiative, pick up the ball, and do what is needed. In my mid-twenties I owned my own small company (it was just me) and sold computer hardware and services to small businesses. Since there was no-one else, every problem was my problem by definition. I am certain that this experience only increased my disposition for “just doing what needs to be done”.

And that’s what I did also in other jobs. Sometimes I had to be a bit creative to convince people that we would all be better off, if I did something that I didn’t have to. Interestingly, seeing the positive outcomes turned most folks around. So I encourage you to just try it. Because most people are not really naysayers, but honestly believe, just like you, that their position is in everybody’s interest.

Taking "personal risk"

This is an interesting one, because it combines corporate culture and personality. As soon as I do something that is not part of my official job description, I do expose myself. There can be the silo-thinking boss who does not like that another department may benefit from my work, because it would have been their responsibility. Or perhaps I ignored some internal rule that says “only people from department XYZ are allowed to do this”.

The bottom line is that I need to make an assessment about a situation and how to deal with it. And if I can be certain that I will be punished in some way for going the extra mile, why should I do it? Organizations must find a way to actually reward such behavior rather than question it. For me this is purely a leadership topic. Because codifying things would only create bureaucracy, take up an enormous amount of time, and still miss out on many situations.

Quite simply, individuals need to be encouraged to put customer interest above job description and act accordingly. That particularly includes things like a risk assessment (e.g. potential legal issues need to be addressed), how to communicate with customers and internally, etc. And if something goes wrong, because honest mistakes happen, it is critical for management to still praise the initiative. Yes, some coaching is also needed. But if someone gets publicly criticized in such a scenario, nobody will ever again stick out their neck to make a customer happy.

Wrong assumptions on customers' priorities

People make assumptions about what a customer would like to hear. This is normal human behavior and we do this all the time, also in our personal lives. E.g. I often decide not to tell my wife all the details of an interesting video on some advanced software engineering topic. But I will probably still mention it shortly, because she likes to roughly understand this. And we all do the same deliberations in a professional context.

The difference there is that we typically do not know the people we interact with so well. I remember a situation when the team engaging with a new customer was discussing whether or not we should propose a somewhat unconventional approach for solving a problem. The fear was that it would come across as “your product sucks and you need to take desperate measures to overcome that”. Interestingly it was exactly the opposite.

The customer had been aware that their requirement was an absolute edge-case and never expected an out-of-the-box solution. And they liked the non-defensive approach when we told them what our proposal looked like. It was a defining moment for the relationship. Remember that customers expect you to sometimes say “no”. They know that some of their requirements are special and no product can meet all of them, without some adjustments. Those who always say “yes” are simply not credible.

Process over result

Processes are important to have standardized ways for handling certain situations. But unless we are in a regulated context (e.g. airplane checklists, nuclear power stations) it is sometimes a good idea to deviate. Because life overall is a very dynamic thing, and many processes do not anticipate exceptions.

But sometimes we forget that the process is only a means to an end and not the actual purpose. So to constantly question whether or not a certain activity makes sense, is a good idea. However, you need to be careful how to communicate this. Many people perceive the desire to optimize as some kind of criticism, even if they are not affected at all. So my recommendation is to use only positive phrases and sometimes just stay quiet. In other words: Choose your battles wisely.

In closing

I want to come back to the core point. After all those details on possible hurdles, it is still about “how would I like things to be handled as a customer”. If this is your starting point, rather than internal regulations and responsibilities, you are on the right track and people will notice. Good luck!

(This article was triggered by reading a very interesting post about cost of customer acquisition relative to customers’ time for getting value.)

If you want me to write about other aspects of this topic, please leave a comment or send an email to info@jahntech.com. The same applies if you want to talk how we at JahnTech can help you with your project.

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One Response

  1. Fascinating insights! Your example perfectly illustrates the nuanced balance between understanding customer expectations and the importance of offering genuine, tailored solutions. It’s a reminder that assuming less and engaging more deeply can lead to more meaningful connections and solutions that genuinely address the customer’s unique needs. This approach not only fosters trust but also establishes a partnership dynamic where both parties are collaborators rather than mere transactional participants. It’s a testament to the idea that honesty and the willingness to discuss “unconventional” paths can significantly enrich client relationships. Thanks for sharing this experience – it’s a valuable lesson for all of us in the professional world on the power of open dialogue and the courage to be straightforward with our clients.

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