Dr. Tony Alessandra, the author of the book “The Platinum Rule” , suggests that the purpose of all businesses is to acquire and maintain customers. So how do we, as Tony suggests, acquire and maintain customers? We do so by listening to the voice of the customer as it relates to how we do business.
To begin with let me clarify what we mean by the term customer. Whether it is an internal customer in the form of your hiring managers or an external customer in the form of an organization who purchases your organization’s services or products, they are each constantly streaming to us messages as to whether we are meeting their needs. Stop and think about this for a moment. When was the last time you heard a hiring manager complain “HR is worthless, I can do a better job if I did it myself?” When was the last time you heard an outside customer complain that “your organization can never do anything right, so I am going to take my business elsewhere.” These are clear messages to your organization that change is necessary.
The TLS continuum process tells us that the success of the continuous process improvement efforts are centered around three pillars. The first of these is that the organization must take a customer centric view of the world. This customer centric world is centered in three critical approaches to the voice of the customer.
The first approach is that of listening to the voice of the customer. Our internal and external customers are very quick to tell us when we are not meeting their needs. The failure to do this over a long period of time will cause the organization to lose business. It is critical that we begin to actively listen to the message that the customer is telling you.
The second approach is that of truly doing something with the information gathered while talking with the customer. All too often we hear the voice of the customer but we sit on the information and do nothing until the customer raises a major storm due to failure to meet their demands. The organization needs to learn to take action before it reaches a critical level. Instead of putting out fires learn to take action before the issue causes problems.
The third approach is that this changed attitude must become a corporate wide attitude. Every department from the C-suite to the office floor must be on the same page. Each and every human capital asset must know and understand that the customer tells us what they are willing to pay for that leads to their compensation levels. The customer provides us a clear picture of the priorities that make their life easier and it is our responsibility to deliver those priorities better, faster and cheaper.
The three approaches sound good on paper, however how do we achieve this customer centric philosophy. We do this on several fronts.
First we need to get out of the corner office. Taiichi Ohno required his managers to stand in a circle on the factory floor for an extended period and observe what is going on around them. This was not a quickie exercise, as he wanted them to truly understand the world around them. When you do this type of effort the problems begin to make themselves readily apparent. You want to look for the obstacles that are causing the customer to be unhappy with the organization. Do you have steps in your processes that slow the system down? Why are those steps there? Does law require them or is it an internal effort? Go out in the field with your business development pros and learn what your external customers expect from the representatives of you organization. Their response writes your job descriptions. Talk with the internal customers and see what they need from your HR function.
Second, as an organization, we need to change our center of focus. In many cases when problems arise the first managerial reaction is that it must be due to a problem with the person delivering the process. When we truly look at the reason why the customer is unhappy with the organization it has nothing to do with the person. The problem lies within the process itself. Consider this scenario. I had a group of HR professionals at a recent seminar tell me that in the process of hiring someone the job requisition is reviewed and approved three times by the same person. What benefit does the repeated review of the job requisition by the same individual have for meeting the demands of the customer? In this case the hiring manager may very well tell you that we can’t hire someone fast enough. Or the external customer may tell you that their timeline is thrown off because your organization can’t deliver their part on time.
The third front is somewhat covered above but needs to be repeated. Corporations have a tendency to feel they can put off decisions for a better time. The only problem is that if we are not meeting the voice of the customer then the better time is now not some point in the future. We must learn to act under a climate of constant urgency. We need to learn to create a new world where the rank and file have the authority to respond to a customer’s complaint, not wait until a committee decides that we need to do something. Your organization has to develop a new priority that says everything that needs to be done is don yesterday.
The final factor is that of gaining knowledge. This has two sides to the coin. The first factor is that of knowing your organization and its processes. You need to understand why your organization operates the way it does. We need to learn to continually ask ourselves why we do something and is it best for the organization. The other side of the coin is the gaining knowledge of how the TLS Continuum works and how to apply the toolbox that is part of the methodology. We need to understand that these tools need to be applied to the organization day in and day out.
Part 5 of the TLS Continuum series may very well have been placed as the opening part of the series. There is nothing more critical in the application of the continuum then the messages that our customers deliver to the organization. They are the ones who tell us in very plain language when we are not meeting the demands they placed on the organization. They are the ones who tell us when they are not getting their monies worth out of our organization. The Voice of the customer is what tells us if we have a customer for life or whether they are here to day and gone tomorrow. They are the ones that tell us whether the organization is sustainable for the future. Our customers are only here for the time period when we meet their demands as to what they are willing to pay for. Failure to do that means they will take their business elsewhere.