Need to know: key customers

Some organisations don’t have products they instead might supply services or expertise. And some customers are indirect, or not referred to or thought of as customers, particularly in the public sector. So you need to understand how your organisation defines the purchasers or users of its products or services.

Ultimately, understanding who your customers are, and how long they have been customers, is about being a business person and understanding your business.

Customers are your business, so you will want to know who they are and how they operate. If a customer is a business, you will want to know what’s driving it. You won’t know as much about it as you do your own, but you need to understand some of the pressures your customer is operating under. If it’s an individual, then equally you might want to understand what economic or market forces affect it. You will also, however, want to understand the people or organisations who could be your customers, but who – rather than buying from you – buy from a competitor or an alternative producer. This will tell you a lot about what you do well and what you might need to improve.

As well as knowing who your customers are and their commercial or individual pressures, you need to understand how you are satisfying them. So if there is someone who has been a customer of the company for a long time, how has that been achieved? How have they been satisfied? If there is a new customer, why have they come to you – is it because of a new product? Or has there been a shift in the market? Or is it because of a particularly good client relationship manager?

Businesses make all sorts of assumptions as to why people work with them or buy from them, but testing these assumptions and finding out what really influences people to come to you or buy from you will help to inform business decisions that you need to take or influence – issues such as succession planning, development or people strategy. And it will draw your attention to people or teams that might need to be supported or even protected.

Ultimately, don’t think of yourself as an HR person first and a business person second. Think of yourself as a business person with a specialism in HR. You will definitely want to be thinking about your customers as well as the people who look after them.

By Jan Hills, director, HR with Guts

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