In 1993, about six months into my professional career, my manager handed me an article from the 1980s called “Completed Staff Work” that I recently passed on to my son, who is starting his summer internship. I shared with my 20-year-old that this aging article, nearly twice his age, helped me understand that I wasn’t consistently turning in my best work back then.
The concept of “completed staff work” requires one to be resourceful in accomplishing the work while anticipating the needs of internal and external customers. This means completing and presenting the work in a way that meets the customers’ needs, wants, and values - or, even better, exceeds their expectations. When my manager gave me this article I realized that I had been focusing only on what I thought my manager needed instead of focusing on meeting the needs of our customers.
Customer Focus is such a critical component of outstanding leadership that it is the first leadership dimension listed in the LEAD NOW! Leadership Development Model. Leaders must create purpose for their teams, and that purpose must be explicitly linked to the needs and wants of the customer. Like my first manager, leaders must be unequivocal that for work to be “completed staff work,” it must be produced while keeping the needs of the customer top of mind.
No business can succeed without constant awareness and courting of the customer. You and your team must nurture them, study them, learn from them, and stay close to them to achieve the desired business results. These four actions are guaranteed to increase customer focus:
1. Get Curious
One of the best ways to increase your customer focus is to ask them questions. Take the time to learn from them and seek feedback. Be visible and get proactive with your research. Customer intelligence can come from consumer insight data and surveys, but the most valuable information will come from the relationships you build with your customers. Continuously apply new learning into your strategy and action planning.
2. Communicate More
Communication is critical to being a strong customer partner. Often we think about informing our customers of problems transparently and proactively. This is undoubtedly important, as is providing updates and check-ins on things that are tracking as planned. Customers most likely won’t complain about over-communication.
3. Partner Up
The best ideas and solutions come from partnering with your customers. Solve problems together—present solutions based on your expertise tailored to their unique needs. Focus on the relationship and build an affinity with your customers.
4. Be Consistent
There is nothing that supports customer focus more than doing what you say you are going to do and being on time in doing it. This needs to occur time and time again. Consistency is a must if you want to build a trusting relationship. If a customer questions your reliability, trust evaporates.
Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Be sure to commit to deliverables you are confident can be achieved. If there is a question or doubt, share this up-front and have a risk management and communication plan in place should things get off course.
As Peter Drucker famously said, “a customer is anyone who can tell you no.” Make a list of all of the customers, internal and external, that your team produces work for, and be intentional about increasing your customer focus. Commit to specific behaviors to develop this leadership dimension. Some examples include:
- collecting customer feedback
- scheduling regular interactions with customers to better understand their needs
- submitting final deliverables (on time!) only when you believe it represents the best work
- aligning personal, team, and organizational goals around current and future customer needs.
What are one or two things you can commit to today to increase your customer focus?