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Understanding Your Customer’s Customer

Jigsaw puzzle with arrowsWhen implementing a change in an organisation—whether it’s a process change, an IT change or even an organisational change—it is good practice to map out the stakeholder landscape and understand who the key players are within the organisation. I’m certain everyone reading this article will have read many useful articles in the past about how to identify, categorise and manage stakeholders. This discipline encourages us to think about who is impacted by a particular change or initiative, and who has some kind of power or control over it.


When identifying stakeholders in this way, it will inevitably be important to identify the customer.  Clearly the end-user of the product or service being developed or changed is paramount. Yet who we class as the customer might not be clear-cut, and is likely to require additional thinking. In fact, there may be unforeseen pitfalls awaiting us if we don’t consider this thoroughly. Take the following example scenarios:


If you are a business analyst in a B2B organisation: It’s likely that you’ll have a ‘customer’ for the change initiative (often a project sponsor), but you’re also likely to have close sight of the types of customers that your business works with. This is an excellent start, and it’s likely that you’ll already have considered the needs of each ‘customer’.


However, since your primary customers are other businesses, it is probable that your product or service is part of a longer value chain—delivering another set of goods or services to an ultimate end-customer somewhere else. Knowing who the ultimate end-customer is, and how the product or service you provide fits into the overall proposition they are being offered, will help us to shape our systems and processes so they are efficient and effective not just for our immediate customer—but also for the end-consumer. There may be additional improvements that have little (or no) cost but can add real benefit and reduce waste.


Let’s take a hypothetical example. Imagine that we work for a company that sources replacement mobile phones on behalf of an insurance company. These phones are dispatched to customers who have made a claim due to loss or damage of a phone (once the claim is authorised). It’s likely that there will be a very slick dispatch process that gets the phones out of the door within hours of authorisation.


In this example our primary customer is the insurance company—and it would be very tempting to focus purely on their needs. But what about the policyholder (the person who has made the claim and will be receiving the phone)? What are their needs? Is there a way we can deliver an even better service for them too?


We might work collaboratively with the insurance company to improve our dispatch process.  Perhaps we consider improvements like:


  • Scheduled deliveries: Asking the customer when they want the phone delivered (yes, it sounds radical doesn’t it? But how many of us have spent days waiting for something, only for it to be delivered when we’re at work?)
  • Optional extras: Giving the customer the option of having anti-theft applications installed as standard (providing an added bonus to the client, but potentially reducing risk to the insurance company too).
  • Preventative measures: Providing a free case with phones, reducing the risk of damage if the phone is dropped.


These are just three of many possible examples.


Even though our ‘customer’ (the insurance company) may be focussing on getting the phone out of the door quickly, by focussing on the deeper needs of our different customer types, we can help create alternative solutions that might be better for everyone.


Aligning not only with our immediate customer, but also the end-customer—and staying aligned—can be a way of differentiating ourselves from our competitors.


If you are a Solution Provider, Vendor or Managed Service Provider: The company or organisation that is paying you for your service is likely to be considered the client. You are likely to be working with a representative within the client organisation and developing an understanding of their needs, enabling a specification to be created so that the relevant change can be delivered.   When there’s a need to deliver on time and within budget, there can be a real pressure to listen blindly to what the client says. Of course, the client’s needs are paramount, but we can often add value by seeking to understand more about the client’s business and their customers. The more we understand about the business context, the more value we can add.


In fact, having an understanding of the client’s customer is crucial. If this understanding isn’t gained, there is a real danger that we’ll miss opportunities to deliver a solution that is not only aligned with what our client wants, but that also meets the needs of their customers. Perhaps the chosen solution has additional features ‘out of the box’ that the client didn’t even know/consider—but by understanding their customer’ needs, advice can be given about how these features can be implemented to best effect.  We might help them surmount the unknown unknowns discussed in my previous article.


In summary, the question of who is a ‘customer’ can be a complex area. There is often a difference between the economic buyer (the person paying for a particular project or initiative) and the ultimate consumer. Considering a range of customers is crucial, and will ensure that vital facts don’t get missed.


How do you ensure you’ve engaged with or understood your customer’s customer? What are your experiences? I’d love to hear from you. Please add a comment below.


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This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business.

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