I accompanied my husband when he gave a speech to a large group recently.
It was one of many speeches he gives each year, a natural part of his work as a writer whose column for Bay Area commuters appears in the front section of the San Jose Mercury News.
As people greeted us afterwards, several people said to Gary, enthusiastically, “Thank you! REALLY – THANK YOU!”
I smiled in admiration for the quality of the work my husband does, and how well he understands his customers, his readers.
He gets appreciative comments a lot.
A few days earlier we were waiting in the ticket line at a movie theater.
As the line moved slowly along, we started chatting with the people in line behind us.
Before long, the man said to his wife, excitedly, “Do you know who we’re talking to?!”
We weren’t sure what he was talking about until we realized he diligently reads Gary’s newspaper column. He looked right at my husband and said, emphatically, “THANK YOU, really!”
My husband and I laughed in happy appreciation that, once again, his readers are, as a group, very engaged in and enthusiastic about the work he does for them.
As a result, another important set of customers, the newspaper management and editors are happy with the work Gary does for them, too.
These two circumstances were a reminder to me, too, to pause and think about what my customers care most about in the work that I do for them.
It’s sometimes surprising, but always gratifying.
What about you?
What do your customers care most about in the work that you do for them?
If you don’t know, it can be a little nerve-wracking the first time you do this, but take the risk, and ask them.
Find out what they value most in the work you do for them.
It may not be what you expected.
When I worked at Apple Computer just after grad school, I was part of a finance group that supported sales and marketing.
The finance – sales and marketing partnership was not always an easy one.
Finance wanted us, as financial analysts, to oversee and influence our internal customer organizations’ budgets.
Marketing always wanted to throw a few more tricks into the mix, though, which always cost more than they planned on.
And we in finance were often the ones who got in trouble if they “got one by us.”
As a result, we learned to monitor and try to “oversee” even more closely.
Trying to help our customer groups reach their sales goals, yet stay within their budgets AND provide the necessary accounting information more easily, we created a “lunch and learn” program we took to customer departments a month before each fiscal quarter ended.
We thought that program might be a little helpful, but that it would be no big deal, really.
We had NO IDEA how valuable it would turn out to be for them.
We THOUGHT the biggest service we provided them was timely and accurate accounting and financial advice.
Instead, what they valued most was getting the information they needed to get beyond the mystery of the company‘s financial processes, and the mixed messages they sometimes received about whether they’d get in trouble if they ran over budget, or not.
They wanted to be more self-managing, more self-reliant.
They loved that lunch and learn program we provided.
We, as financial analysts, loved the positive effects when experienced when we started to teach, advise, guide, and improve the financial processes they used.
We began to be able to work with them in a much more powerful and preventative way.
It was far more satisfying than the financial cop roles we had been filling – trying to inspect, catch and correct various accounting and financial management errors before they caused havoc somewhere else, down the line.
Think about your own work, and about who values it:
1. Who are your customers, exactly?
These may be people inside your company, or outside of it.
2. What do they thank you for?
What, specifically, do they comment on,unsolicited?
And what do they thank you most consistently and enthusiastically for?
Do you know why these things are so valuable to them?
If not, ask.
3. Does what they care most about match what you expected when you started working with them?
The reason this may be important to know is that your assumptions about what’s valuable to customers guides how you plan and manage attention, energy, decision and work flows in order to produce customer-valued results.
If customers really care about something far different than you expected, this may mean you need to rethink and redesign your business processes to give customers more of what they need and want, and to do so more easily.
In the process, you’ll probably find that you can get rid of or reduce the time you invest in things that customers value far less than you expected.
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