Perhaps listening to my customer would help?

As we continue on the business process improvement journey, perhaps it would be a good idea to take a fresh look at your customer and THEIR perspective.


I was in a local coffee shop recently, with laptop, business cards, cell phone all around me and I needed a refill.  There are three kinds of refills: free, discount and full price.

I love free…we all love free.  Discount is a nice compromise.  I’m showing my loyalty by coming back and you’re rewarding that with a little reduction on my cost.  Terrific!

But full price?  It seems you know what you’re worth, but I’m not sure I agree.  Sure, I’ll pay it, it’s only something like $2.10, so no big deal…but hey…I did just get a cup 45 minutes ago and I also bought one of those $2.50 danishes, so…what’s the deal?

Anyway…I digress.

So  I get my refill, with just the right amount of half-n-half, sugar and it’s all stirred to a perfect homogeneous blend, take my first sip and…Oh no…It’s remarkably weaker than the original cup.


I think, well, it’s me, so I take a confirmation sip, and…No, it’s not me, this is definitely weaker.  I’ve got several choices:   I can do nothing and sip my coffee, abandon the coffee, which may be a healthier choice…but wait a minute; I just paid for a refill! No, I’m going over to the counter to express my dissatisfaction, tactfully, but assertively.

I say,”Uh, my refill was really weaker.”  The woman behind the counter says,” that’s weird.” 

“Uh huh”, I reply.  “”Can we try that again?” I ask.  She looks at me like I just told her her adorable daughter is ugly as sin.

She takes my cup and says, “I just made a new batch, let me warm that up for you”.  “Wait”, I reply, “I’d like a new cup, not just a warm up”.

She rolls her eyes like I just told her she is not going to get that new stimulus package as promised.  She walks over to the sink, dumps out the weak refill and says, well, I can’t imagine what went wrong,  I mean,  I do it the same way every time!”

I just stand there, waiting for her merciful action to refill my cup, which did not meet my original requirements, patiently.

Has my attitude toward the establishment changed in any way?  Did she make me feel any differently about the place?  Does it influence my choice to come back?  Maybe.

This is an example of a story where the voice of the customer really comes into play.  A few key points:

Who is the customer and what is really important to them?

What is the problem, in terms of the customer?

How do we measure the problem?

Where in the process does the problem occur?

What inputs to the process, things it needs to work right and deliver the desired outcome were present or missing?

In the case of making a good cup of coffee, a lot of factors go into making it come out right.  In the above example, the outcome apparently changed, so something in the process changed.


There are several factors or characteristics in the product or service you supply to your customer.  There are quality characteristics, cost characteristics and delivery characteristics.

A perfect cup of coffee would be free, delivered immediately and be the most wonderful cup of coffee you ever tasted, delighting you, not merely satisfying you.

You might be able to make the best tasting cup of coffee in the world, but if it costs you $5.00 to make it or if it takes you twenty minutes to make it, you might not sell too many of them.

Being a competitive organization means tuning into those characteristics in your product or service that your customer considers critical. 

Find out what those critical-to-quality (CTQ) characteristics are and people will start paying attention to you, over the competition.  Offer it at a fair price and deliver it on-time and they will start coming to you in drives.

If you can delight your customer, first, deliver within a reasonable time and keep costs down, you will be well on your way to a competitive situation.

In troubling economic times, when sales are down, the only way to stay in business is to get lean.  We’ll look at that in the next post.

In the meantime, ask yourself:

Who is my customer?

What characteristics are critical to them?

How do I build processes which avoid problems, in their perspective?

How do I exceed their expectations and still make a buck?



About Michael R Weekes

With more than 25 years experience in business process improvement, Mike Weekes is known as the couch-potato-turned-marathoner. Mike helps organizations in the NFP, manufacturing, healthcare, government / education domains to save more than $200,000 a year in operational expenses using a simple philosophy: EVERYTHING IS A PROCESS.

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