Volume 1 / Issue 4 / May 9, 2016
Customer consciousness Skill1
Lean thinking starts with specifying value from the customer’s perspective.
In order to specify value you have to do two things:
1. Know who your customer is
2. Know what your customer wants and expects
Everyone in a lean enterprise should be focused on creating customer value. For everyone to be focused on creating customer value, everyone must know who the customer is. This is too often taken for granted. “Of course we know who our customer is,” says the CEO of every company. But does everyone, at all levels of the organization, know?
If you ask the sales department, they will tell you the customer’s name. But what if you ask someone on the shop floor? Does your plant maintenance staff know who your customers are? Try an experiment. Go to your shop floor and ask someone who is building a product who it’s for. If you work in a make-to-order industry, they should be able to name the customer. If you’re make-to-stock, they should be able to describe the kind of people or kind of company that will use the product. For example, they might say, “This golf club is made for the weekend player of average skill.” About another club, they might say, “This is for the professional golfer.” The difference between the two in that example may be key to what the customers sees as value.
The idea of internal customers needs to be deepened in a lean enterprise. If your job does not include direct interface with the customer, then maybe you support someone whose job does. To drive the idea of creating customer value through the entire enterprise, we must treat whoever receives the output of our process as our customer. Engineering creates drawings that are used by manufacturing to build the product, so manufacturing is engineering’s customer. Sales creates forecasts that are used by planning to buy raw materials and calculate manpower needs, so planning is sales’ customer. People should be steeped in that concept and know exactly who their personal customer is.
Knowing your customer is the first step. You then must identify your customer’s wants and needs. What do they want? When do they want it? How will they judge if it has value? Find out what the customer wants and needs and measure yourself at meeting those needs. What the customer wanted yesterday might not be what they want today. You need to know what they want as soon as it changes.
Lean people must continually ask the critical customer questions. “Who is my customer?” “What are their needs or concerns?” “Am I meeting these needs?” “How do I know if I am meeting their needs?” Lean people must keep in touch with their customer, identify barriers to customer satisfaction, and eliminate them.
Source: AFEE Manufacturing Consortium Weekly Update, October 10, 2005