Monday, April 16, 2018

Dimension One: The Customer

Who is Your Customer? Oh, yisshhh here we go again.

Don't give me that oh-yiiiissshhh-here-we-go-again, scratch-your-head, and look-at-the-heaven routine.

You should have been asking this question over and over again until you are convinced you truly know who is paying your salary, your rent, your benefits, and hey, your Christmas bonus.

  • What does your customer need?
  • What are the current products and services you have that meet this need?
  • How are you going to deliver these products and services to the customer?
I can bet you have no clear answer to these questions until now.

I would not even wonder if you are five or ten years in the business.

You would think that the question should no longer be an issue because most business should already know their customer before they should even start selling anything.

Unfortunately most businesses did not start by asking themselves who is their customer.

They started because they saw or have observed somebody making money doing something and they just ended up really following the other guy.

The issue of who is the customer only comes after they start realizing that money comes in a trickle or none at all.

They don't even ask: Who is the customer?

They simply ask why?

Understanding The Same Thing, Thinking The Same Way

Let the lead technical person in your company write his answer to these basic but relevant questions.

What does your customer need?

What is the current product and service you have that meet this need?

How are you going to deliver these products and services to the customer?

Do the same thing with your lead marketing guy.

Don't let them discuss. Just let them write it on a scratch paper.

Don't let them write more than seven points. No paragraphs just short key points.

If key words match, that is a positive thing.

If your two lead persons are the people who define the function, the process or work methodologies in their respective department, unit or team, you can conclude that they are in sync.

You can have a lot of perception and coordination problem if this is otherwise.

Then again this is just perception.

You will still need hard facts to validate if what you perceived is the condition that actually exists.
The hard facts you need lay underneath a lot of your data or databases.

You need to analyze what you have.

If your key people say that more than half of your customers are companies rather than home-based people, then your data should tell you that.

Is your data telling you that?

The data you take for granted can yield very surprising amount of truths about your business.

Are you ready for the truth?

Or is it easier just winging it?

Oh you're not winging it! 

So you?re doing SWOT - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis.

Hey that's great!

You can read more about SWOT in the post "The Business Plan" and if you have time, you might get a copy of a workshop tool I used for business planning.

Knowing Your Customer Needs

If somebody asks you if you want your car or air-conditioner maintained, you would most likely say no.

Most of the time, we don't find good justification to pay somebody to take care of our most precious assets.

But, when your car or air-conditioner gives up on you on a bad day, you will surely pay up when the repairman gives you the bill.


Why do you think it is easier to pay up now?

Simple, you now have a problem.

This problem needs to be solved now not later.

Grudgingly you will pay up.

The lesson here is that if you have a solution to the problem and you are around or at least the person with a problem knows you're around, you get to send the customer the bill for your solution.

You get paid.

You get paid every time.

This lesson is telling you: You should know your customer's pain areas.

What bugs them?

What problems irritate them the most and how frequently?

What issues confront them at home or at work?

How much are they spending to get rid of the problem all the time or how much do they pay to get rid of the pain the problem is giving them?

You don't have to go far to get a feel of your customer. Ask yourself what bugs you? What gives you pain?

You must be able to recognize who is actually making the decision to use or to buy.

Know Who Will Benefit the Most

You must know who will actually benefit from what you are offering. This is the user.

You must anticipate that the person, office or organization making inquiries about your product or service may not eventually end up using your product or service.

Have you ever observe your customer using the product?

Do they actually use it the way it was designed to be use?

Are there other uses for the service or product that you have not actually seen?

Are there other benefits aside from what you anticipated the product or service should deliver?

Do the benefits actually derived are as perceived?

The thinking process or the decision process that follows is as unique as the ultimate users of your product or service.

Although you cannot change the product or service, you can however vary the way the product or service will be perceived.

The customer service program must accommodate these varied perceptions and decision-making process in its design.

The process therefore that supports your communication may not look at its ultimate customer the same way as your delivery process.

The communication process may be designed primarily to support technical evaluators and decision-makers but your delivery process may be designed to support the ultimate user of your product or service.

When I used to sell computer maintenance service, I have seen how the service is perceived by the different users.

Management sees maintenance as protection of asset, the department using the computers sees it as a support and leverage against downtime, and finance sees it as both cost and as a good source of information for determining how computer assets are actually use.

You can see that your perceive customer for the same service may not just be one category.

In my experience, even reports, if you package it well, can be a distinct service the aim of which is to satisfy the need of another set of customer inside an organization.

You can bill customers for more comprehensive reports aside from the usual incident reports that go with the statement of account.

This is assuming you have a good process for documenting results of specific service.

Know Where the Customer Is in His State of Need

Customers don't grow the same way and at the same rate.

These alone should tell you that even customers from the same category or industry will not necessary have identical requirements in their "need" evolution or maturity.

Customer Service programs must appreciate that customers grow.

Your programs must evolve with your customer.

The variation and growth of customer needs must also translate into varied services that specifically serve a customer in a phase or stage of its growth.

When I created a service concept for maintaining personal computers, I already anticipated that we need to support these PCs once they get linked physically through cables.

Not only did we anticipate the physical inter-connectivity but we did see the coming of the nuances of managing these connected hardware resource through different network operating systems.

Why did we anticipate it? Did we suddenly saw the future of Microsoft of Novell? Did we see the network operating system coming to the market?

Actually, what we saw was more mundane. We saw the ease by which new users came to adapt desktop PCs into the workplace.

We knew something as good and as easy to use as desktops will become a necessity to ordinary office workers just as calculators were.

We simply saw desktops PCs growing in number in our head as business grew.

We see more people getting hired to do more things.

I already saw that we were going to see different needs coming from this growth.

Eventually I had to study the difference between Microsoft Windows NT and Novell NetWare.

I had to talk to our most experienced service team leaders in the Engineering Division.

We had to change the way we respond to customers contemplating on connecting their PCs.

I have to get my Marketing Assistants new sets of reference materials and develop most of them from scratch so they can respond to questions about the different networking technologies even those that were not yet commercially available.

I already drafted a new version of our maintenance agreement specifically tailored for the new networking technologies even though there were no inquiries yet about maintenance services for computer networks.

I firmly believed that we had to be ready for a new phase of growth in our customers IT needs.

It was a bit funny looking back at it because we were already creating a service concept for a need that even the customers have not anticipated nor signified they would look for.

The process and the forms I had put in place did help tremendously to capture the customer data I can use to anticipate the customer need that evolved.

Knowing Where Is Your Customer

You must be able to know where is your customer at certain times or frequency.
Do you find him in a mall, in a convention, in his home on a weekend?

Is he in tune to a certain TV or cable channel?

Where does he get his news?

Is it from early morning news (radio or TV) or is he subscribing to some form of periodical?

You must not only know where he is physically but where his mind is at a certain moment.

What is he thinking about on a Monday or midnight Saturday?

What occupies his mind during summer, Christmas or Halloween?

What is he most likely going to do or where he is going to be on a holiday?

In the customer's phase of growth (start-up, on-going or mature), do you offer services that benefits them while they are a start-up?

Is there another service if they start branching out? Or can you still serve them when they start opening up satellite offices in other cities?

Will you be able to serve them just as efficiently and as cost-effectively?

Is the size and quality of your human resource up to the challenge?

Is your cost accounting structure flexible to accommodate the creation of new forms of cost? Is your own expansion seen as cost or investment?

Are your training programs progressive enough to adapt to the changing and expanding responsibilities of your team?

Know Who Will Actually Pay

The most important thing is to discern who will actually pay--The decision-maker.

If you have to remember anything about knowing your customer this last thing should be it.

Most of the mistake sales people make when qualifying institutional prospects, is in not understanding the decision-making process of organizations.

You will not be able to pin down who will eventually sign the check if you do not understand the decision-making process of your customer's organization.

Your communication process for reporting action taken or easing up payment terms and writing your terms and conditions in a service agreement may be greatly affected by the perception and action of the person eventually paying for the service or product.

Getting Your Customer Profile Right

Do you have a list of your primary customers who contributed 80% of your gross revenue last year? 

(Remember the official receipts and the delivery receipts? This is the place to start.)

Can you tell which products or services did your primary customers buy or pay for? (See, you?re still going back to that delivery receipt and official receipts.)

How much of each of the products or services did they buy? (Need I say more?)

Do you know which of your customers were the most expensive to serve or the cheapest?

Can you rank your products and services according to net profit contribution?

Which of your customers were paying for the products or services providing the most net profit contribution?

Can you categorize your customer under a special group or groups based on the services delivered and mode of payment?

What is the demographic profile of the contact persons in your institutional customers?

Is there a common profile in terms of age, industry, sex, civil status, length of service in the company, rank, etc.?

Are certain groups of customers using certain products or services because of their industry, location, size, market share, market niche, profitability, etc.?

Do you have quantitative and qualitative description of your existing customer?

The problem really is that most entrepreneurs either don?t care about customers or don?t really consider knowing customers as an important part of their day job. 

You as an entrepreneur have to change the way you see your customer.

You have to change the way you take in or see things.

When you started as an entrepreneur, you were great at doing it. 

Eventually, you will have to shift from being the Big Boss to being a manager with a system and a process. 

You must evolve.

But then again, you may need to satisfy your ego first. It may take a while before you get over that.

Usually you'll be saying something like: "I've last this long in this business, why would I need to change myself at this point in my success!"

I guess you're an immortal and not too worried about getting old and dying like the rest of us. 

Yeah! Go right ahead. Don't change.

Even the biblical Moses took so long to make up his mind before realizing he was the One. 

God had to orchestrate a lot of difficult circumstances before Moses came to a right frame mind and took cognizance of what ought to be.

He single handly convinced the Jews that they need to look at a greater plan.

His management style was not near any form of democracy we know now.

Even Moses had to accept that he has to change his management style.

I read Moses was more than 80 years old before God asked him to delegate to 10 capable men.

With each of the ten selecting ten more down their own tribes or clans.

It was the first official act of delegation with a specific structure ever recorded on a document?The Bible.

It may not be a coincidence that the oldest and most successful of the militaristic states and societies have subscribed to this formula of delegation. 

Even God believed in changing structure and management style.

The issue whether forms or even databases can actually be tools for really knowing your customer is not as important as changing your way of thinking about proactive approaches to knowing customers.

Then, you will have to be a visionary or a leader.

You may like being a superstar and just winging it!

You'll probably be around the next hundred years or so managing your business and not worried about where you're really going, who's taking over, and who's supervising who.

Eventually he did accept his fate to be The Leader who was going to lead the Jews out of Egypt and into the Promise Land.

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