The Most Important Question…

If the customer is so important, why are urgent things getting in the way?

I’ve found an interesting theme among those I’m coaching lately. When I ask about customers, I get various versions of blanks stares, or platitudes about how they are trying to stay focused on their customer.

Rather than customers, they are usually focused on some sort of internal organizational issue, the latest restructuring project, the next budget presentation, or hitting the number (whatever number it may be). Don’t get me wrong. These are important; at least urgent.

But, this blank stare when it comes to customers is interesting. After all, isn’t the customer why we’re in our business in the first place? We have a product or service that our customers need or want (hopefully both). We may be the only source for our customer. Or, more likely, we’re one of many providers of the products and services they want.

If the customer is so important, why are urgent things getting in the way? Simple. It’s easy to get caught up in the urgent, often internal, issues. Being busy can feel rewarding.

It’s harder to remember that your organization only matters if your customers think it matters.

Sounds harsh, but that’s all there is…you and your customer.

See if you can answer these questions about your customers. Before you jump ahead, there’s one rule. Write your answers in the form of direct quotes from at least five of your customers:

  • How do your customers use your products and services?
  • Why do they use your products and services?
  • How do your products and services make them more successful?
  • What worries your customers?
  • What are you doing to help with the things that worry them?
  • What do they see in their future?
  • Will you be a valuable part of their future?
  • How can you help your customer get to their future faster?

And, the most important question of all:

  • Does your organization really matter to your customer? Why? (Or, why not?)



Entering the Advise and Hope Phase

My role is to provide the best advice possible, asking the tough questions that nobody else will ask…

For the past six months or so, I’ve been a management consultant. I’ve also coached a couple people who want to improve their performance as managers and leaders.

Over the years, I’ve known a number of consultants, lawyers, and others who provide ad hoc services to companies and individuals. They always talked about how they loved their work. They tackled challenging situations for their clients. They provided excellent advice about how to work through them. It may have been how to grow a new business, limit risks associated with an existing business, or maybe the best way to find and retain the right talent.

And yet, there was always something missing. The missing ingredient? They didn’t own the execution of their advice. In fact, there’s no guarantee that their clients would even take their advice and run with it. They were in the “advise and hope” business.

I didn’t fully understand this distinction until my children became adults. As a parent, I enjoyed teaching our kids the ways of the world. Talking through new situations, and helping equip them to make sound decisions on their own. When they started actually making those (hopefully) sound decisions for themselves, I realized I had entered the “advise and hope” phase of parenting. I’m pleased that my children often seek my advice, but I know that the final decisions are up to them…as it should be.

Having experienced this subtle shift in my role as a parent made the recent shift in my professional life a bit easier. I fully understand that no matter how great (from my perspective, of course) my advice is, ultimately the client determines their next steps. They choose which parts of my advice to take, and which to ignore.

My role is to provide the best advice possible, asking the tough questions that nobody else will ask. After that, it is up to my client. I don’t get to own their decisions.

I own one thing: my sincerest hope that I can help my clients achieve success, even if they ignore some of my best advice.

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