Just focus on your customer

May 26, 2012

The focus is the customer, it’s about their needs and wants. Sometimes when we try to improve our customer focus and we try to achieve a ‘wow factor’ we actually just add fluff, which at best is window dressing which doesn’t do any harm, but nor does it have benefit and it still adds cost and time. But in the worst case adding fluff can lose you a customer.

For instance a case where clients were invited to their first meeting with the design team. Prior to this the clients had only had one meeting in which they overviewed their lot, design ideas and budget. This meeting was aimed at finding out if the design team could provide the clients vision within a set budget. The meeting was set for 1:30 so the clients had already had lunch. They arrived to be greeted with a lunch and a large design and construction team. They felt overwhelmed and not hungry. Deciding to be polite they accepted the lunch but considering that one of the clients couldn’t eat wheat (unless they wanted to be rushed to hospital) only a salad was available. So effort was wasted and resulted in frustration.  Now only the design team were munching around the table!

This could have been so much simpler and yet more customer focused. Simply telling the client that since the meeting was at 1:30 they would provide lunch for their team and the client so they could have a working lunch. Did they have any food restrictions? Then the client could let them know about allergies and also not waste time on grabbing lunch prior to the meeting. But the design team wanted to surprise the client, well not really, they wanted to appear clever. This had a been a deliberate piece of fluff considered to be a customer wow factor. But in reality they didn’t care what the client wanted the client wasn’t the focus.

So now the team engage in small talk. However, not to get to know the client but rather to impress. The team asked the clients if they had seen certain homes around the country, a Frank Lloyd Wright home was the only one that rang a bell. The design team continued to discuss the merits, designs and brilliance of a range of famous home designs.  The clients were wondering just how long the team thinks this meeting is going to last and that this team had somehow gotten the impression that they were much richer than they were.

At last the topic of what the customer wants arose, the customer provided a short overview of their asethics, size of home (modest square footage), functionality and even a list of must haves and dislikes along with cuttings from design magazines showing examples of what they liked. The final two points were the maximum budget and that they were excited about the design team taking these requirements and providing a custom designed home.

The design team launched into assuring the client that this would be no problem, mentioning some ideas and then stating that it could be done for $60k above the client’s budget and then showed an outline design. The client stopped them and asked for clarification on cost. Since this was the first meeting and materials, finish etc. had not been discussed how could a cost already have been determined? Well they were told that’s what the cost of a home in this area is. Couldn’t we work back from the budget, asked the client? What square footage, energy sources and materials would the budget dictate? No, it doesn’t work that way they were told, and were encouraged to look at a preliminary design that had been outlined just to give the clients some idea of what the team had in mind. The layout to the clients seemed nothing like what they had in mind. The design team didn’t take this well and one member actually raised their voice in frustration. The clients asked for a moment alone and shortly afterward told the team that they appreciated their time and efforts and for clarifying that this was certainly not the design and construction team for them!

So leave your ego in your office.  Focus on what matters, your client. Find out what they want and need. Be polite, courteous and ask for feedback. If you provide something they don’t like, that is not their fault. Don’t add fluff, the wow factor is secondary to giving the client what they want i.e. on time, to budget and meeting other specifications.  At a higher level, use customer surveys and focus groups to gain a rich insight to how you can improve. Don’t add fluff instead. The wow won’t be a good one.

Denis Leonard has a degree in construction engineering an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in quality management. Denis is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality, a Certified Quality Manager, Auditor, and Six Sigma Black Belt. He has been an Examiner for the Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Examiners a Judge on the International Team Excellence Competition and a Lead Judge on the National Housing Quality Award. A former Professor of Quality at the University of Wisconsin, he has experience as a quality manager in the home building industry as well as construction engineer, site manager, and in training, auditing, and consulting with expertise in strategic and operational quality improvement initiatives. His work has achieved national quality, environmental, and safety management awards for clients. 

Denis is co-author of The Executive Guide to Understanding and Implementing the Baldrige Criteria: Improve Revenue and Create Organizational Excellence.


Related Categories

PB-Best Practices