When you work with IT and technology in your everyday life, you run the risk of being affected by the somewhat rigid, binary thought pattern that characterises the terms and conditions governing the development of technical solutions – does variable x equal z (true/false), is version a compatible with software b, does the situation presented satisfy the conditions (yes/no), etc.?
Transposed over to the conditions that prevail in day-to-day operations in most organisations and companies, this absolutely correct but somewhat two-dimensional perspective needs to be expanded to meet the demanding challenges that creating value in our customers’ business represents.
Ultimately it is the added value, the difference that we can make to our customer’s end customer – the consumer, the end of the value chain – that really counts. Better quality, lower costs, higher service, a better offering – all of these are classic results when you have successfully combined new technology with expertise and business development. Taking this as a starting point, another dimension is added. It’s not enough to understand what our main counterparty, our customer – the one who places the order, specifies the demands – says that they need and want us to deliver. We must understand how our customer works to meet their customers’ needs and requirements in order to achieve our customers’ expectations and deliver benefit, value.
Our existence is accelerating constantly at a higher speed when it comes to the rate of change and complexity. We see individually adapted service offerings, customised supply chains and highly specialised niche experts who through their collaboration open up enormous opportunities and flexibility, while at the same time introducing risk and vulnerability to disruption into the system. Fragmentation and specialisation in the industry, niche competence and individuals are bringing a small, but discernible shift between each level and layer when it comes to understanding and explaining what customer benefit, demands or customer value actually mean. From the end consumer, all the way back along the value chain to – in our case – us, the supplier, the view and understanding are affected by what is being demanded. Just like the game Chinese whispers we played as children.
There is a very suitable – well-known and well-circulated – cartoon strip that illustrates the inherent challenge of successfully communicating actual needs, customer value, between different roles and perspectives within a business, “What the Customer really wanted…”.
It’s striking and links in well with the delivery of IT, but it can easily be associated with most businesses that have some form of design in the process, or where several roles are involved in developing a solution.
I am convinced that it is important that we always start with a holistic perspective in work with the customer, so that we can as far as possible encourage the customer to see another one or two perspectives in the image, in their role as buyer, specifier or change manager in a project in their organisation. We all bring with us a unique set of experiences and understanding to each situation, and in the best case we can help one another to fill in the gaps we don’t see in the picture – and to understand what is needed to make sure the customer gets what they really want (need). At Enfo we have an established framework for working with an Enterprise Architecture (EA) and an Information Competency Center, in our customers’ business, as tools to support work by broadening the perspective and making information from difference branches of the business more easily accessible for all.
As this notorious illustration of the intersection between our human nature and the art of delivering against fixed expectations shows, it is not always enough to have good intentions if you’re to succeed in avoiding pitfalls – but keeping this thought in mind when working in the “customer-supplier relationships” we all have around us, regardless of business and industry, can help us to avoid a few more of them each time, which ultimately creates more customer benefit and value.
In our projects at Enfo, this is a fundamental element of how we get closer to the objective of delivering not only what the customer feels that they want in each individual project, but also supporting our customers’ work by delivering what their own employees and end customers want.
The conclusion is – to borrow the structure of an old saying – My customer’s customer is … My customer!
Fredric Travaglia, Business Development Consultant, Enfo