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Who is your customer?

Firstly, let’s define the term ‘customer’. Over the years I’ve seen many weird and wonderful definitions, all in an attempt to get staff at all levels to implement organisational strategies. In one organisation everyone was told that their customer was every internal person they dealt with – if they did not deal directly with the organisation’s customers. How ridiculous! Defining a customer is relatively easy – it is someone with the authority, means and intention to buy goods or services from you. ‘Potential’ customers haven’t yet defined their intention to do so.

This simple definition means there are only two customers (and for business owners and CEs of Government departments, only one) that you need to satisfy. If you keep these customers happy your business and career is sure to flourish.

Firstly, keep happy the person who buys your services – yes, your immediate boss! Whoever is directly responsible for your remuneration should be your number one customer. Plain and simple. Unless you are unlucky enough to have landed a bully-boss (and if so, I suggest you get out of there quick) satisfying your personal customer ie boss, will take you a long way. If you are the boss, then make sure you are expecting the right things from your team so that your business can grow.

The other customers you must help satisfy are the organisation’s customers – the people who buy the organisation’s good or services. Even if you don’t deal directly with the organisational customer, somehow what you do is impacting the customers, otherwise you shouldn’t be there. Every person should regularly review how well they are doing that within their sphere of expertise. And if your organisation is to grow and thrive, you (and everyone else) must also take a strategic view of who potential customers might be, and attract them to your organisation.

At this point it’s important to note that sometimes the customer is not the person who deals most with your organisation. Obvious examples are government services, local bodies and services for children. In these cases, it’s critical to identify how the customer gets information that influences whether they continue to buy. For example, if you work at a distance from your boss, you need to know how s/he is assessing your performance. Equally, if your customers do not directly experience your product or service, you must know how they are judging your performance, and ensure that their feedback will be excellent.

If you can get the balance right between satisfying organisational customers and your personal customer ie boss, you can have a thriving career and thriving organisation. Your ability to identify how your role can better serve the organisational customer, and attract potential customers, is likely to get you noticed as someone able to think strategically about customer service. Or if you are the business owner, build your competitive advantage.

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