Understanding Your Customers

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Understanding your customers may seem like a no-brainer, but conversations with company leaders across various industries the past five years have demonstrated to me just how difficult this can be in practice.

ISO Can Help

One of the newest requirements to both ISO 2015 and AS9100 2016 is expanding the whole concept of who is a customer. The traditional definition of a customer is an organization that pays us for our product. The new requirement is to define the interested parties to the business, and to identify their needs.

Interested parties are defined as any party who has an interest in how your company performs. This includes traditional customers, but also adds parties such as owners/stakeholders, employees, suppliers, banks, and the community. Only parties that have an interest in how your company performs and impact the QMS need be examined, although this should be a very short list. As I preach to my clients, a “B” can be functionally swapped out for the “Q” in QMS, as it is actually a business management system for the entirety of the organization.

How can this help? Excellent question, because any requirement comes with the expectation that something must be done. A simple analysis at the next management review meeting will suffice, using a tool such as my Interested Parties Worksheet (Figure 1). Refreshing this activity then becomes an annual exercise.


Figure 1: Interested Parties worksheet.  

What do customers want?

What customers want is very simple. They want the core product or service of your business to meet their needs and expectations. If you are a PCB manufacturer, they want a board that works, delivered on time, at a fair value for their money. So, if wanting stuff that works, when you need it, is not an unreasonable expectation, then why are consistently high marks for customer satisfaction so difficult to reach and maintain?

Because customers expect these things, they are called order qualifiers, or in other words, the price of admission. Satisfying these core areas will not create loyal customers or cause them to tell others how good you are. However, if you don’t meet these basic objectives, they most certainly will tell anyone who will listen how bad you are.

Order winners, the things that will drive loyalty, additional business, and turn customers into your best sales people, are the little extras—things that most companies fail to either realize, or don’t place as much value on. The following are a list of things that your customers really want that will turn them into fans for life!

Customers want:


  • Ease of doing business. Answering the phone, simplifying the order process, proactive communications and easy product returns are key to making it as easy as possible to do business with.
  • Warm and friendly interactions. With every phone, email or face-to-face contact, customers want a warm response. It can still be professional, but you and your people need to look and sound friendly and likeable. It amazes me to see just how many customer service folks are just not that friendly.
  • To feel important. Although they realize that you have many other customers, they want to be treated as if you didn’t.
  • To be listened to. It is not hard to give the impression that the person dealing with them is not really listening. Effective listening is a learned skill that takes diligence and commitment.
  • The Cheers experience: someone who knows their name. A person’s name is one of the sweetest sounds he’ll ever hear. If you use a customer’s name when you talk to him, it indicates that you have taken the time to acknowledge and remember him.
  • Flexibility. Customers hate to hear the words “No” or “It can’t be done,” especially in today’s challenging economic environment. While it’s not always possible to say “yes,” it is extremely important to be as flexible as you can and tell them what you “can” do.
  • Recovery. When things go wrong, and we all know they will, customers want you to solve their problems quickly. No excuses or blame; just present solutions. Customers often judge the quality of your product or service by the way you recover and not from the actual issue.



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