I recently wrote an article for my column on CustomerThink entitled ‘How Well Do You Know Your Customer?’ – the premise was around the significance and necessity of creating customer personas. You can read the article here. If you do not want to read it, the conclusion to the article was that there is most definitely a need for everyone in an organisation to have a clear understanding of who their customers are – the customer persona is a tool to make that understanding a reality. Like many things in the world of business, it sounds so obvious (well to me anyway) – why wouldn’t you want to know who your customers are?! Yet, the reality, as my article describes, is that too many businesses around the world make decisions on a regular basis that do not clearly align to the things customers want and need – or indeed that address challenges the customer may be experiencing.
Although many organisations may not be using them effectively, customer personas are an invaluable instrument in the toolkit of Customer Experience Professionals. If used well, they are a vital cog in the development of customer strategy. Over the last few years, I have worked with many businesses across all industries to develop customer personas. It is a fascinating exercise to observe. More often than not, ‘employees’ find it remarkably difficult to describe their customers – customer facing employees are more likely to have a better understanding than those who do not regularly have any customer interaction – but observing cross functional ‘colleagues’ grapple with the challenge of creating a common customer understanding is very interesting indeed.
My conclusion having conducted the exercise many times is that ‘employees’ do not tend to take the time to really THINK about who their customers are. In fact, I would go one step further by claiming that PEOPLE do not really take the time to THINK about PEOPLE – and that is where the title of this blog post comes in. Not only do employees find it challenging to understand their customers, I believe they find it equally as challenging to understand each other! We spend our lives working in organisations with other PEOPLE, but other than those in our immediate teams, when do we ever really take the time to understand who everyone else is…… and what everyone else does?
On more than one occasion in the last two years, I have run workshops with cross functional teams of people who have worked in the same business for at least four years. The workshops I have run have been the first time a great number of these people have ever met in person! These are colleagues…… working in the same business…… serving the same customers…… contributing to the delivery of the same customer journey…… yet they do not actually know each other. Now you may be thinking ‘so what?’. If you are sitting in an office right now, reading this blog post, just stop for a second. Look up – have a look around you – do you know who everyone is that you see? Do you know what everyone in your business does? Do you know how everyone contributes to delivering your customer journey? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then I think you need to consider taking some action – now!
It is important to understand that there are consequences to not knowing who your colleagues are and what they do. To understand the consequences, it is critical to acknowledge that EVERYONE in your business plays a part in delivering your end to end customer journey – your customer experience. It does not matter whether you are in sales, HR, operations or IT – ever singly employee contributes in some way. The delivery of the customer journey is dependent on the connectivity of a human chain (enabled by technology and processes) – if one link in that chain breaks, then the customer experience will be detrimentally affected. Think about it – what happened when you last contacted your IT help desk? Did they help you? Did you feel that the person you interacted with had an understanding of your role and why addressing your issue was so important? I am not intentionally picking on IT, but this is a good example for what I am describing. The key consequence of NOT understanding who your colleagues are and what they do is that you will NOT be able to deliver the customer experience you intend to. Another consequence is that you will be unable to empathise with your colleagues; support your colleagues; collaborate with your colleagues; innovate with your colleagues – I could go on.
Organisations are still so embattled by impenetrable silos, that I believe it is as important for EVERYONE to understand who their colleagues are as it is for them to understand who their customers are. One of my clients has come up with a brilliant solution to this. As well as creating customer personas, they also create EMPLOYEE personas. They actually call them ‘employee heroes’, but the principle is the same. The key questions that are answered in the construction of an employee persona/hero are:
- Who are their customers (internal & external)?
- What do they do for their customers?
- What is the balance between internal and external interaction?
- What is their role in the end to end ‘delivery chain’ to the external customer?
- How is their performance measured?
Getting colleagues to create these ‘personas/heroes’ together is extremely valuable and insightful. Sharing them across the organisation is illuminating. Is it common to see this type of tool being used – no – but that is the problem. If we want to see businesses becoming more people centric, then we need to give our people more time to think about who we all are – from customers, to colleagues, to shareholders. To have any chance of really thinking like customers/colleagues and therefore being able to empathise with customers/colleagues, encouraging a common understanding of PEOPLE with the intention of breaking down organisational silos is key.
So if you do not know who the men and women sitting across the corridor from you are; or you do not know what they really do in the marketing team, or facilities, or communications; then do something about it – you cannot deliver consistently great customer experiences without PEOPLE working TOGETHER!
Great article Ian, I’ve written and spoken about the same problem but this puts an excellent twist into it. The larger the organisation the bigger this problem becomes. I’ve just posted a short article on making better use of interal intelligence and thus supports that assertion. Thanks for posting.
Many thanks for your kind words John – very much appreciated