Friday, December 19, 2008

Putting the end-user at the centre

The 1 December edition of Time magazine (ironically, the same edition in which this Michael Kinsey essay on the downside of blogging appeared), there is a 10 Questions interview with Magic Johnson.

In the print version, the very first question was "What is the most important business lesson you've learned?" Johnson's response was:

Always make your business about the customer and never about yourself. I learned that when I invested in a sports-paraphernalia store. I was also the buyer, so I bought everything I liked and didn't buy anything that the customers liked. I ended up losing a lot of money because of that.
In the same edition, there is a KBC advert with the strapline "We start from the principle that every client is our only client" - very Jerry Maguire! Note: I had never even heard of KBC before, so I can't say whether they succeed with this ethos!

Few things are guaranteed to send me incandescent with rage as quickly as shoddy customer service.

I am looking for a new mobile phone at the moment (please don't flood me with the pros and cons of the iPhone - I'm not on that kind of budget) and the sales person in the first shop we went to couldn't do enough to assist, even down to bringing out a few handsets for me to play with - all this AFTER he had established that he wasn't going to be able to supply us with a phone because his branch doesn't do business contracts. He helped us settle on one or two to choose from before sending us across the way to the company that could sign us up. My husband (who had been dragged along as my adviser, since my eyes glaze over and my mind clangs shut when they start explaining the contracts) was so impressed that he made what - for him - amounts to a little speech as we left (look - the man's a phlegmatic Swede, what can I tell you?).

Perhaps we could be cynical and say that, with the credit crunch on, the salesman has the time to spare for customers who aren't going to net him a commission, but his whole demeanour was that he wanted me to end up with the phone-and-contract combination that would best suit my preferences and my budget.

The problem is, that the customer we come into contact with is usually he-who-signs-the-cheque or a direct representative. Surely the real customer is he-who-uses-the-learning-resource? We need to find a way to put that person at the centre. It's a tough call, trying to get the commissioning client to set their own demands aside for long enough to see things from the end-user's perspective. Often, they're so busy seeing themselves as your customer, they forget to the end-user as theirs (and therefore, by extension, your ultimate customer).

We need to develop some politely assertive ways of bringing the learner back into focus in all our discussions with the commissioning client, or we could end up learning the lesson that magic Johnson learned.

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