Start With The Customer

By Jeff McCullough, Principal Consultant, Navigator Management Partners

The earthquake that was Amazon’s recent announcement regarding buying Whole Foods jolted the grocery industry and Wall Street. Numerous articles were written wondering what will Amazon do. What they are going to do is right there in black and white in the first of Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles – “Customer Obsession – Leaders start with the customer and work backwards”.  

Recently, I ordered an item on Amazon. That same day I also ordered a ship-to-store item from Walmart (like most of us, I hate to pay for shipping). With Amazon I ordered the item and 2 days later it was on my doorstep. The process took 2 steps from there. Open door. Open item. A week after I placed the order with Walmart, I received an email saying I could pick the item up at my local Walmart. It took me 11 steps and 45 minutes to get the item (it would have been shorter if I did not have the step of looking for a clerk to help me). What would you most likely to do next time you wanted to order online? 

This is why any industry that Amazon enters should be concerned. Even though, the secret is no secret – how many organizations that you have encountered start with the customer and work backwards? How does your organization measure up? 

How about your business processes? Most processes are guided by what is in the best interest of the organization with minimal consideration for the customer engaged in the process or for the customer of the process output. Processes evolve. Band aids are added to keep them working, again, with little consideration for the customer. What results are bad processes that are inefficient, expensive, and unloved?

Yet when you get the stakeholders of a process in a room and have the team members explain the current process and empower them to design a new process, a more efficient and customer-oriented process emerges. And it is more likely to be followed since the customers of the process have ownership. 

Think about your technology. Was it designed with you, the customer, in mind or did it start with the technology first and work forward? Apple aside, in 30 years of working in the Technology industry, it still amazes me that the user experience continues to be an afterthought in technology development and implementation.  It is also amazing how difficult it still is to get two systems to talk to each other. If Apple and Amazon ever got together to develop or acquire an ERP solution, imagine the shockwaves that would be felt in the ERP industry.

Partly because of the difficulty of technology and current business processes, system implementations continue to be suboptimal. Despite studies that show the correlation between Organizational Change Management (OCM) and implementation success, many organizations still minimize or ignore OCM in technology acquisition and implementation. Even when OCM is engaged, it is often still a struggle to get the OCM tasks into the project plan. 

By the way, the entire 14 principles ( make for some very thought provoking reading. “Find ways to simplify”. “Constraints breed resourcefulness”.  And the last of the leadership principles is “Deliver Results”. The higher numbered ones focus on process and culture. 

Start with your customers and work backwards. They are worth it.