Our Customers Know Continuous Improvement Too

It is a mistake to be so focused on corporate agendas that a business cannot make an effort or spare the resources to address customer or client needs. The true vision and purpose of all continuous improvement methods is to improve how well a business serves customers, profitably.

Today’s true tale was offered up and told to me by a very close friend and it contains at least two very important messages from which we can learn if we choose. Let me re-tell my friend’s experience this week, and then we can dig into what we might learn.

My friend’s employer is a recent acquisition by a very large, diversified global corporation. It is currently in the process of bidding for the privilege of continuing to produce solutions for an important client as that client’s business and demand grows. The bid for a continued contract is not uncontested.

Last week, representatives from the client paid the business a visit, in part to witness product testing, and in part to discuss matters for the bid process. One of the client representatives was the client’s expert and leader of continuous improvement.

The client CI expert advised in advance that he would be part of the visiting group and asked for an opportunity to visit with the business’s CI expert. During the two-day visit a meeting between CI experts never took place. This is the fact that has my friend most embarrassed about the business’s behavior.

The business CI expert was too busy administering and addressing corporate-driven continuous improvement initiative chores to make time to meet the client representative. I’m tempted to put an interpretation on that, but since this is all second-hand, I’ll refrain from judging and suggest we accept the statement at face value.

Naturally, the client CI expert had some words to say to the quality function leader, and the program manager, and a few other project team members, during a brief exit meeting before returning home. I wasn’t present, obviously, but the message was described to the following effect.

It is a mistake to be so focused on corporate agendas that a business cannot make an effort or spare the resources to address customer or client needs. The true vision and purpose of all continuous improvement methods is to improve how well a business serves customers, profitably.

I believe that the message the client CI expert had to deliver needs to be said to the business site lead, but I understand that he was not part of the exit meeting, unfortunately. So, I choose to make my friend’s story public, if still anonymous, so that the rest of us can learn from the CI expert’s experience and message.

There are two lessons here that I think we should discuss.

  1. Where is our CI effort focused?
  2. We can’t bluff our customers with claims of CI prowess because they know it too and they can tell if we are as proficient as we claim.

It is easy to get distracted in our agendas, especially when we have new leaders whom we feel compelled to satisfy or impress. It happens to all of us. Unfortunately, it happens all too often that we forget the most appropriate vision for us to be trying to fulfill. As continuous improvement experts, leaders, change agents, and businesses, we must never forget that our primary purpose is to serve our customers.

Therefore, the primary focus of our continuous improvement methods and programs should be focused on fulfilling the needs and expectations of our customers. When we put corporate standardization and initiatives in front of fulfilling customer needs, we lose our path.

Coincidently, our customers’ expectations go deeper into our businesses than they used to. Our customers’ interests no longer stop with an evaluation of our products. Our customers now expect service inclusive with our products. Our consistency of quality, our on-time delivery, our effectiveness at communicating changes and challenges all become important elements of a customer-business relationship.

In addition, our customers and clients are just as aware of, and proficient with, continuous improvement methods as we are. Given that consistency, capacity, communications, response time, and on-time delivery are just as important as product performance, quality, and cost, it should not surprise us that our customers are also interested in our continuous improvement methods.

If we prove to be proficient, focused, and effective with our continuous improvement methods, our customers will have greater confidence in engaging us in a relationship. However, if they knowledgably perceive that our methods, focus, and effectiveness is lacking, our customers will have reservations about engaging us.

After all, one of the basic tenets of every continuous improvement methodology is that a good input is tantamount to a good output. Generally, our products and services are inputs to our customers’ outcomes. If our own output is uncertain because our methods for managing and improving them is questionable, why would a customer steeped in continuous improvement methodology invite us to be part of its process?

I am not an advocate of adopting whatever methodology our client’s prefer just to impress them. I firmly believe that we should construct or adopt the methods that work best for us specifically. I will say, however, that it is imperative to have some method, to be focused, and to be effective if we expect to continue to meet customer expectations and to encourage new customers.

Like it or not, our continuous improvement abilities are part of the formula our customers and clients assess when considering to engage, or not to engage, us. Adopting and effectively executing a methodology is no longer optional.

Therefore, the morals of today’s story are as follows. An effective continuous improvement methodology is no longer just a path toward greater profitability; it is a necessary, competitive element for winning new business and keeping it. Likewise, our efforts must remain focused on our primary mission, which is to fulfill the needs of our customers, not necessarily our business metrics and standardization agendas.

Stay wise, friends.

If you like what you just read, find more of Alan’s thoughts at www.bizwizwithin.com.

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