Last week we looked at obtaining information in your everyday dealings with colleagues, suppliers, competitors or other similar organisations, and of course with customers or clients.
The following example gives two frequently voiced objections to carrying out this sort of investigation. After reading it you should be convinced of the need for everyone to get involved, and also of how many opportunities there are to keep in touch with your customers.
Objections to keeping in touch with customers: “I work in the finance office of an airline - I can't keep in touch with our customers.”
Your customers are not really the paying passengers; they are the people affected by the payments you authorise and the information you provide. Your audit could feature periodic conversations with the people who receive your financial reports, about how well laid out and clear they are, and whether they tell them too much or too little.
You probably know people who work in or have contact with finance departments in other organisations. How and why do they do things differently from you? Could any complaints they have about the way their finance department works apply to your team or unit?
And whenever you fly, there is no harm in thinking about what it is like to be an end-user - Stelios Haji-Ioannou, owner of the Easyjet airline, wanders down the aisle talking to as many passengers as he can during his frequent flights on his growing airline.
“I manage a residential home for disturbed children. To get through a day in accordance with regulations and procedures, and without an incident or a problem with staff, is a major management achievement. Even if I had time to talk to customers, exactly who are they anyway?”
You can find out a huge amount in everyday conversations with the children and their parents/carers/social workers: what they like and dislike about your home compared with other homes, or with other forms of care the children have experienced.
Your main customers may be the sections of social services departments that decide to place children with you. Do they send children to you from necessity or choice? What do they think of the care you provide? Do they think it is good value compared with other options? Could you identify, together, ways of improving the process of placing children and their subsequent support?
We have identified this curiosity about customers as the first stage in obtaining information in customer-oriented organisations. The second (dissemination) and third (responding to it) stages are crucial to converting this information into action.
Stage 2: Disseminating information Dissemination works upwards, downwards and sideways
Being known as someone who reports useful information about customers and who suggests ways of satisfying them better may not only lead to some improvements - it will do your career prospects no harm either!
You probably appreciate those staff who bring you their ideas as well as their problems; similarly, managers who are always looking for and suggesting improvements tend, rightly, to be the most valued in organisations.
Sharing information downwards and sideways also fosters a mini-culture of openness and responsiveness to customers, even when that is counter to the wider culture in the organisation. This wider culture context is important.
Toyota, for example, claims that it adopts 98 per cent of the 700,000 or more suggestions made by its workforce every year for improvements in processes, whereas in some other organisations suggestion schemes have failed dismally. How you share information in your organisation needs to be appropriate to the context in which you work.
Next week we’ll look at Stage 3 - Responding to information...
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