Management Articles


Casual, Moderate, and Intense Levels of Customer/Partner Focus

By: Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is

"What's Mr. Smith's condition?" asked the raspy voice on the phone.

"He's recovering so well he'll be going home in a few days," answered the nurse. "Whom shall I say called?"

"This is Smith calling. My doctor won't tell me anything!"
Part of the reason so many organizations aren't really customer-focused is because their managers don't know the difference. They're innocently ignorant. These managers don't understand what intense customer focus really looks like. And they don't fully appreciate the why and how of balancing their focus on the final or ultimate customers with their focus on external partners, such as distributors, retailers, dealers, agents, suppliers, physicians, and such.

The following chart illustrates the vast differences in customer and partner focus. To make our teams or organizations into high performers, we need to get all of our focus and activities into the "Intense" column.

Casual Moderate Intense
The needs and expectations of markets, customers and external partners (like distributors or suppliers) are lumped together. A few segments and partnerships have been highlighted. The needs and expectations of key market/customer segments and partnerships have been prioritized.
Infrequent market, customer, and external partner data collection and analysis. A trickle of data helps to focus improvement activities. Major strategic and operating decisions are based on a heavy stream of continuous data.
Managers and internal production or support teams occasionally see customers or partners. Visits from and visits to customers and partners are becoming more frequent. The boundaries between customers, partners, and our organization has blurred.
Some customer and partner expectations are occasionally collected. Expectations are prioritized and weighted along with effectiveness ratings to identify performance gaps. Customer and market gap analysis provide competitive benchmarks and broad market comparisons.
Product/service development, improvements, and innovations are pushed out to the market. Customer/partner input and pilot testing help identify and shape innovation and improvement. Customers, partners, and people working in the field explore, experiment with, and guide improvements and innovations.
Budgets (primarily through sales and marketing) focus on customer acquisition. Increased investments in service/quality research, development, and improvement. Customer retention and partner improvement is a key investment focus.
Departmental organization structure follows internal logic and needs. Process improvement and reengineering refocuses and restructures the organization. A decentralized, team-based organization is built around key markets, customer/partner priorities, and strategic processes.
Training teaches everyone how to smile and "handle" customer and partner complaints. Training teaches how to trace the root cause of errors and eliminate them. Training provides the tools to identify internal and external customers and partners, prioritize their expectations, analyze performance gaps, and make improvements.

A useful exercise is for management teams to individually assess their position on each section of this chart. Comparing answers and discussing differing points of view can reveal plenty of improvement opportunities. Better yet, are ratings from customers and/or internal partners.

A shake out of technologies companies will continue to give us plenty of examples of what happens when service/quality levels are only Casual or Moderate. We've all had our fill of dealing with companies who provide a useful service or technology but can't even answer the phone or provide the most basic customer support. Trying to get service support from one of these companies is about as much fun as being poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

Many of these mediocre companies are one-technology-wonders who developed a specialized product or found a narrow technical niche and have never really had to compete for business. They haven't had to worry about service because there were always more customers to replace those lost through careless neglect. Their casual levels of service/quality make them causalities in company graveyards.

© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group

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