Thought Thursday – Seeing Systems Part 5: Understanding the Customer Space
All of us have had the experience of being a customer. In short, you know you are in the role of customer when you’re relying on the goods and services of a provider in order for you to meet a personal or system need. Whether you are waiting on a medical diagnosis, waiting to be served at a restaurant, waiting for a contractor to give you a quote on a major home repair, waiting on a member of your IT department to fix your computer, waiting in line to renew your license at the DMV, or waiting on some critical information from a department within your organization for you to meet an immovable deadline, the customer experience usually requires patience and a whole lot of waiting. It also may benefit from taking specific proactive steps to ensure great service.
I remember, over fifteen years ago, sitting in a session with my mentor, Barry Oshry, and hearing him turn this simple, elegant phrase: “Enter into the customer- provider relationship early as a partner, as opposed to late as a judge.” First, let’s go back to the predictable conditions Oshry says await us as we enter into a space in a system. Referencing back to our analogy of the dog jumping into the lake, when we jump into the “customer lake”, we experience neglect. In response to that experience of neglect, we react with a reflexive shake, which is to stay aloof and hold the system responsible for our condition. After all, we are the customer, we paid good money for the service! Didn’t they get the memo: “the customer is always #1”?
So what does this strategy of staying aloof and waiting to get served do for us? Does it get us better service? Depending on how much neglect you experience and how patient you are as a person, you are likely to react with a pallet of emotional responses ranging from mild disappointment, to frustration, to “royally and righteously screwed”.
What are our alternatives? Sure, we can dash off a scathing review via some social media outlet, or we can share direct feedback with a powerless customer service representative. And yes, we can even do our best to make sure our friends never work with person X or frequent store Y ever again. But at what cost and with what gain? In order to pivot out of the position from complaining to satisfied customer, Barry suggests that we take a stand for partnership and Become a customer who gets in the middle of delivery processes and helps them work for us. In other words, rather than waiting to be served, take an active stand to help shape the service you would like to receive.
Barry Oshry suggests there are four strategies that can bring us into positive partnership with service providers so that they are more likely to meet our expectations:
- Know how “It” (their delivery system) works– Learn how service providers prioritize their work, make decisions, schedule service and get rewarded.
- Set clear demands/standards– Articulate expectations clearly from the beginning of your request for service and establish benchmarks and deadlines for what you want to get done.
- Stay close to the producer– Build a real relationship with individuals who are serving you and check in regularly to see how things are progressing.
- Get into the process early as a partner, not late as a judge– All of the above needs to happen from the outset of a customer provider relationship.
In many of the schools I consult with, too much time is spent criticizing other stakeholders, parents, students, fellow administrators, faculty and staff without adequate empathy and or awareness of the condition of the spaces they are operating out of every day. Barry Oshry’s exploration of the space of Tops, Middles, Bottoms and Customers unravels the mysteries of organizational life and opens up pathways to partnership that can create more powerful and robust systems. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
In case you missed it, click here and to read introduction about the Top, Middle, Bottom, and Customer spaces. To learn about previous spaces discussed, click the following links:
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