Question Marks In The Sky

What customer problem are you solving?

How your organisation can avoid becoming too inwardly focused

Written by Dr. Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
Question Marks In The Sky

It’s a trap for organisations to become too inwardly focused. Systems, procedures, policies and protocols dominate meetings whilst clients, customers, stakeholders or the general public never get mentioned.

One way to counter this habit is to have a regular agenda item that reads “What customer problem are we solving?”

By asking this question, you force yourself to justify any decision or action from the point-of-view of the customer.

If, for example, you decide to spend money updating the integrity of your database, then an argument suggesting this will help overcome customer concerns about privacy or data breaches, is much stronger than an argument that misdirected mail is costing the organisation money.

My previous article "Write your purpose in 10 words or less" discussed the importance of having a succinct purpose statement. This statement can be even more powerful if it is aligned with a clear understanding of what customer problem is being solved.

By articulating what value you bring to the customer relationship you provide a laser focus for staff to deliver on that promise. Anything that is not contributing to resolving a particular customer problem should be challenged.

This concept should not be restricted to customers and private sector organisations.  Government and not-for-profit organisations can modify the language to make the same point.

Citizens accessing support payments from the social security department fit the idea just as well.

If a decision is taken to reconfigure the reception area and queuing procedures, then this should be done within the frame of “What client/citizen problem are we solving?"

"How will these changes address these problems?"

"Are there other actions we can take that would address these problems more directly?”

Without these client-focused questions, the decision is framed in terms of what is in the best interests of the staff, or worse, the best interests of the designer.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

At your next team meeting, provoke the question around “What customer problem are we solving?”

Listen to how closely aligned the different perspectives are with each other and with the organisation’s Purpose Statement.

It may take several discussions before some consensus emerges, but when it does emerge, use the answer as a reference point before signing off on a key decision.

Ask, “Has this decision advanced our ambition to solve the agreed customer problem?”

Ask yourself

What impact could this action have on your leadership success? 

How likely is it you could implement this action successfully?