Black Belt Not Required: Do you really know what they want?

May 20, 2005
In the words of Dale Carnegie, “You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Penelope Przekop discusses how to discern and respond to the needs of your internal customers — no matter how difficult they may be.
You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.--Dale CarnegieYou’re sitting at your desk with a giant mug of coffee and a well-laid out plan for the day. The phone rings. You can tell by the display that it’s one of those nuts from the affiliate site who always call to complain about something, ask a question, or question what you’re doing. Don’t they realize that you have 20 years experience and two degrees? Who do they think they are?“Hello!” You say with a big smile because you have to, after all, it’s political.They are your internal customers. Are they always right?Of course not.But the truth is that no matter how wonderful you and your staff think your product or service is, no matter how large the smile, it falls flat when it fails to address the desires and needs of your customers. Eventually they will go elsewhere, or at the least, stop expecting to get what they want from you. In the case of internal customers, they may become more difficult to work with, resentful or worse, complain to senior management. These negative scenarios are some of the more extreme customer actions. Dissatisfied internal customers can consciously or subconsciously create delays and inefficiencies in the workplace. You may notice that individuals slowly or suddenly:
  • Become harder to reach via phone
  • Don’t return emails promptly
  • Stop copying you on important emails
  • Place less priority on review or approvals you require
  • Delay meeting with you or your team
Depending on your line of work, this can potentially result in major issues for you and your staff - including missed deadlines. Customer relationship building, whether external or internal, is critical because while we all have heard that “the customer is always right,” sometimes they’re wrong. There must be avenues to address those situations, scenarios, or moments while maintaining strong positive relationships.In our competitive world, including the marketplace and workplace, all organizations, and most people, aspire to have a competitive advantage. On a personal level, the competitive advantage you seek may revolve around pleasing senior management, building a strong reputation for providing high quality deliverables or services, or being respected in your field for your particular expertise. Regardless, over time, the opinions of your internal suppliers and customers (including your staff and supervisor) play a key role in meeting these personal goals.A key Six Sigma concept is customer focus, and closely tied to it is another -- collaboration. These together make for powerful cornerstone concepts that can strengthen your personal management framework, creating the underlying energy to support a focus on process and the goal of managing your business using data. So how do you know that your product or service truly meets customer needs? You could just ask. That’s the simplest approach and it can work beautifully for the most basic customer situations. However, asking customers what they need and desire can get complicated. You may have multiple customers that need to be satisfied with the same deliverable. You may have multiple deliverables, each with a different customer.There are numerous Six Sigma activities that call for customer focus and collaboration. However, collaboration should begin on “day one” whether it is day one of your job, the first day you meet the customer, or the day after you read this column. To build a Six Sigma framework, managers and their staff must practice the principles of collaboration daily. As you plant seeds through small acts of collaboration, you will strengthen the possibility for phenomenal collaboration when it’s needed. Collaborate on small issues - then when you need critical collaboration, or even strong buy-in from suppliers or customers to achieve a major goal, they’ll be there, ready and willing to talk, discuss, and negotiate.Once you’re ready to tackle a process improvement project using the DMAIC cycle, your ability to collaborate with both your suppliers and customers will increase if you’ve laid the groundwork by taking the time and initiative to build those relationships. For this reason, a common understanding of the organizational deliverables, suppliers and customers should be established even before you set out to improve processes. Defining the key outputs or deliverables, core processes, suppliers and customers for your personal organization should be established up front -- outside the scope of the DMAIC cycle to begin building your personal framework.Regardless of the scope of your work, if the process changes you’ve identified have created a more satisfied internal or external customer, you’ve succeeded. In addition, if you’ve followed the objectives of Six Sigma, you should also be seeing a more efficient process and one that saves resources, including employee time. We all know time is money. Therefore, to some degree, you’ve impacted the bottom line for your company.Next time the phone rings, instead of worrying about the smile, just ask the nut what you can do for him. He might not be as crazy as you think, and after all, no man, department, or organization is an island unto itself. Perhaps one day you’ll have a bigger office, a nicer mug, and a more exciting plan for the day if you improve your listening skills.
About the Author

Penelope Przekop | MSQA