CHAPTER THREE: ADOPTION OF A CUSTOMER FOCUS
When "Good Enough" Isn't Good Enough,
Core Ideas of Total Quality
© by Ends of the Earth Learning Group 1998
Linda Turner and Ron Turner
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|References and Copying Rights
The second key idea of Total Quality is the "adoption of a customer focus." A
customer focus means that continuous improvement efforts are measured by how well
customer needs are met. This is true not just for an organization's external customers,
but also for each internal customer within the organization.
An internal customer is defined as someone who depends on you to do your job
correctly in order for them to their job correctly. The acid test for determining if
someone is your internal customer is to ask, "Can I mess up this person's job?"
A supervisor passing a dictated audio tape to a secretary plays the role of supplier to
customer. The secretary will not be able to accurately type the dictation unless the
supervisor spoke clearly enough in the first place.
Once adopted, a customer focus requires each person to do three things.
This information becomes the basis for measuring the success of continuous improvement efforts.
A customer focus, at first glance, would seem to be universally accepted. How could
anyone reject it? After all, as Deming puts it, "Profit in business comes from repeat
customers that boast about your product and service . . . " (Deming, 1986, page 141.)
A customer focus, however, runs counter to many of the most honored tenets of
"Yankee horse trading" which are a fundamental part of American business practices.
Having a customer focus means rejecting the notion of Caveat Emptor ("Let the buyer
beware.") It runs counter to economic traditions which have always maintained that
if people can get away with lying and/or stealing, they will do so.
In essence adopting a customer focus means that the supplier is looking out for the
best interests of the customer. That holds true for internal as well as external
Once adopted, a customer focus will fundamentally change the relationships between people. The most important person to satisfy will stop being the boss and start being the customer. Feedback from internal customers will go directly to internal suppliers, bypassing supervisors in most cases.
We recommend that the Golden Rules and Customer-Supplier Interview questions be adopted for dealing with internal suppliers and customers. By having ongoing recurrent interviews, many process improvements will result.
When individuals first hear about the concept of internal customers, there is a great
temptation to say, "Great, someone will start treating me as a customer for a change."
Then they complain to their internal suppliers about the lousy service they have been
receiving and become angry when the internal suppliers don't instantly improve
These individuals don't yet have a customer focus. Instead they have a "me" focus
that has forgotten that the individual should be measuring success in terms of their
own customers. The primary responsibility of everyone is to ask external and internal
customers, "What can I do to improve?" Improving things for those customers which
should be the ultimate measure of success.
This notion of a customer focus is hardest for those organizations that are
unaccustomed to thinking of themselves as having customers. In health care, there
is resistance to calling patients "customers" because there is fear that it sounds like
clinicians must then give patients whatever the patients ask for, even when patient
requests clearly are not what is best for them.
For instance, giving drugs to addicts is unacceptable. More subtly, giving antibiotics
too freely is also unacceptable, even though patients come to doctors in the hopes of
getting some magic drug that will "fix" whatever ails them.
A customer focus in health care means that success is measured by improvements in
meeting patient needs. Giving unnecessary drugs is not meeting needs. But, not
having a "magic pill" is also not meeting patient needs and is clearly one of the areas
for continuous improvement in health care.
While it is disturbing for some clinicians to take patient "time" into account, clearly
making patients wait for hours in the waiting room causes patient resentment.
Clinicians in Total Quality health care facilities start improving scheduling systems
so that patient time is not wasted.
From a patient perspective, what is perhaps even more significant than reduced wait
time is that the stereotypical clinicians who are perceived as being arrogant and
disrespectful will have to change the way they interact both with patients and staff.
For instance, sometimes patients ask questions about clinical diagnoses or
management options. In the past, clinicians may have been answered with comments
like, "If you don't trust me, find another doctor," or "You don't need to worry about
those things, that's my job." In a Total Quality environment, all patient questions are
answered patiently and with respect.
In education, teachers have a clear responsibility to look out for the best interests of students even when students sometimes fail to see what is best for them. For that reason, many educators are resistant to calling students their "customers."
A customer focus in education does not mean giving automatic A's, abandoning standards, or giving students a homework-free course simply because students might ask for that. It does means, however, that teachers have to start asking students, "Was this class worth your time and money?" If the students give "no" as the answer, then it will require educators to start rethinking what they do in the classroom.
For police agencies, customers are not accused criminals (even though there is a long
tradition in police departments of sarcastically referring to criminals as customers).
Instead, customers are taxpayers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and others in the
criminal justice system. A customer focus will mean identifying what these folks
need, and then start measuring how well those needs are being met.
A customer focus toward internal customers
A customer focus is a reminder to people about why their organizations exist. Vision
and mission statements are simply statements of what a customer focus means for the
organization at large.
Unfortunately many bureaucracies (whether for-profit or not) started out with very
good intentions, but then forgot their reasons for existence. Adopting a customer
focus is a mechanism for getting everyone in the organization aligned once again
around the founding principles.
When first getting started, organizations are best off deciding precisely how they will
measure their success. This is the concrete point where everyone gets to see if the
organization is truly adopting a customer focus both toward external and internal
customers. These measures bring vision and mission statements to life. Sometimes
these statements can be so abstract that they lack concrete meaning.
Measures of success should be established in four areas:
In addition, future needs of customers must be measured and plans made for dealing with these needs. Last, the organization needs to know how it is doing relative to competition. Many businesses who were doing a good job have gone down the tubes because their competition was doing a better job.
Employees are internal customers of management. Perhaps more significantly, if a learning environment is not created for employees, they will resist adopting a customer focus and committing to continuous improvement.
The organization needs to somehow evaluate its overall climate and how employees feel about working in the organization. Usually this is done through some combination of employee surveys, exit interviews, numbers and quality of employee suggestions, etc.
Key processes need to be identified and results of these process tracked. Over time, if continuous improvement is taking place, then processes should become more efficient. While many organizations may track average production costs and the like, far more meaningful measures will be developed by examining processes in detail.
Discovering for instance that paperwork which requires only ten minutes of work might nonetheless sit in an office for a week or two is more indicative of how processes operate than to simply look at average cost to process the paperwork.
Even non-profits should monitor their financial results. Financial results can be measured in terms of financial stability, surpluses, stockholder return, return on investment, or whatever seems appropriate.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|References and Copying Rights