Words of Wisdom and a Customer Focus

Six months ago I made a big life decision – I left a job that I had worked really hard to get to. I left a company were I spent years to build my reputation and develop a network that enabled my success. I left for two reasons, but most people were only aware of one of those reasons. The driving factor behind my departure, and the one that I told everyone about, was I wanted to try out the world of cybersecurity. I had just completed my graduate degree specializing in this topic which is something I have been interested since the first time I heard the term “honeypot” in 2004.

The second reason,  and what gave me the nudge to leave my comfort zone, was that I needed time to self-reflect. I had been in the same role for quite some time, the same industry most of my career, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I left a leadership role and became an individual contributor with another company, a step backwards many may argue. For me, however, it was something I had to do. The lack of leadership responsibilities over the last six months has given me the time to reflect back on myself as a former middle-level leader and re-frame how I want to be as a future leader. Without leaving my former company, I would not of had the ability to get the clarity I needed for the true self-reflection I desperately needed, not to mention I wouldn’t have had the chance to explore another career path I was extremely interested in perusing.

Thanks for joining me on this journey and please share your thoughts on any self-reflection that you may have lately.

You Think Different

To start, you have to understand that my team often used to tell me that I “thought differently” but yet when they came to present me something and I would ask them a question, they would say “I knew you would ask that!” I always liked when I heard this because it reminded me that I was consistent leader; people knew what to expect. Now keep in mind, being consistent and being resistant to change a two very different things. I was always agreeing to be the pilot team for new initiatives so our team was always changing, but I always made it clear to the team why this changed aligned with our mission and vision and why it was going to improve our product.

That being said, in order to summarize for them this “different” way of thinking, I left them with one last email on my last day. Over the next six weeks, I am going to post a breakdown of my “Words of Wisdom” (or Paul-isms as one employee called them) which I left for them. I will post the topic, what I said in the email, and then my reflection on those words now six months later, from a non-leader perspective. Do I still believe these words? Do I want to continue with those beliefs going forward or is it time to rethink my approach to leadership? Here it goes…

The Words and the Wisdom

“As I reflect back on the past several years, I am extremely pleased and proud with what we have accomplished as a team. We have seen tremendous growth and change organizationally, departmental, individually, and of within our team. For those that have been here since the beginning, you can recall the ambiguity, uncertainty, confusion and frustration we all experienced. When we look at where we started compared where we are now, we are a process and quality driven team that is known as one of the hardest working teams in the suite. We have also led the way for the continuous improvement efforts the department has seen over the last year or so. As I think back to what are the building blocks that we have used to get us to the level we are operating at today and is the basis for my advice for continued success in the future, I would like to leave you with these final thoughts…”

Concept One: Focus on the Customer

“Everything you do, make sure you are doing it for the customer: without them, you have no purpose. Keep in mind that our ultimate customer is the patient, even if the patient is not our end-user. We don’t do patient care (well some of us don’t) but what we do directly impacts patient care – everything we do! Our clinicians did not go to school to use computers, they went to school to take care of patients. Everything we do must provide value to our end users and we need to ensure what we do makes it easier for our end users to care for the patient. Every extra click, every exception to the rule, every time they have to look for something, this time takes away from direct patient care and should be considered non-value added work. Reduce the non-value added steps in your product so your users can focus on the patient! Use forcing functions and visual cues to drive the user to the correct workflow – show the correct thing, to the correct user, at the correct time. Make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing. Our goal should be that our customers should interact with our product as least as possible so they can focus on the patients as much as possible. For some really good reading, check out this article from Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, and his thoughts on ‘obsessive customer focus.'”

Six Month Reflection

Despite currently being out of healthcare and not having customers that need to take care of patients, I think the customer focus is still extremely critical for success in any industry. I also still think it is critical for a leader to continue to cascade this to their team to give everyone a purpose for why it is they do what they do. Customers are the foundation of every organization on this planet and when you start taking advantage of them because you either think you know them better than they know themselves or you think your business is indispensable, that is exactly when you will allow the underdog companies to start taking over.

The other important aspect of focusing on the customer is ensuring you do not experience solution creep when working on various business improvement projects. I have worked on countless projects where contributors, leaders, or sponsors of the project may add items to the scope as “nice to haves” but often time there is not a clear understanding on how these things will actually help the customers.

Two companies that are known for their extreme customer focus are Amazon and Publix. It is driven into the culture, and their products and services demonstrate those values. I have never worked at these companies and I don’t know how they manage this, but I can I think of one aspect that I want to make sure to focus on in the future.

The Golden Rule of Extreme Customer Satisfaction

Do not seek out new customer markets until you have completely satisfied your existing customer base. I have talked to countless people in various industries about how many business continue to work on expansion to gain “market share” while their existing customer base is not truly satisfied. When this happens, you are just going to replace one customer base for another. As you spend more time, money, and resources bringing in new customers, it will take away from your programs on existing customers and those people will leave. It has been discussed for decades that it is cheaper to keep customers than bring on new ones, yet businesses often fail to consider this when planning yearly goals of increasing market share via expansion or acquisition. If you cannot look at your current customer base and know that you have done everything to ensure they are completely satisfied and if your customers cannot tell you that they are completely satisfied, it may not be a good time to expand your company’s reach.

So in summary, I am still happy with this building block recommendation and plan to continue this extreme customer focus into the future. I have also made it a point to find a book on Amazon, Publix, or another extremely customer-centric business to learn more about how they do it and the positive impact it has.

In the next post, we talk about concept two: take ownership.

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