In our work we’ve found that the answer to this question is a common point of divergence. The “customer” definition gets convoluted because it refers to many diverse groups. There are suppliers and buyers, internal and external customers, distributors, influencers and users who all may be referred to as customers. Multiple definitions create confusion. Confusion slows growth, creativity and productivity.
Recently I spoke with a mom who shared that while the playground at the new Maggie Daley Park is beautiful it was not designed with parents or children in mind. She took her four year old there to enjoy the slides, swings and super fun playground gear.
Unfortunately the design of the equipment puts children out of their parent’s sight. When Isla got scared of going down the slide, a kind older child was able to help her out of the tower and down the stairs to the comfort of her mother’s arms. Can you imagine a playground design where parents are unable to see and even reach their child? This is an example of a designer who created a beautiful space without keeping the customer in mind.
Who is the customer? Was it the city who purchased the spiffy set of equipment? Was it the residents who live in the neighborhood? Was it the children who play in the playground? Each answer leads to a different outcome.
When deciding who the customer is, the focus should always be on the people using the product. They are the ones for whom value is being created and the reason why the market and the product exists. In this case the parents (who decide whether or not to take their children to the park) were not considered the customer. While the children have a fun playset, the design prevents their parents from reaching them in case of distress. Apparently the city didn’t consider parents and children as their customer.
Imagine an organization where employees all have a different definition of the customer. This leads to confusion and lack of internal focus which ultimately inhibits the organizations ability to create value and grow. To profit from your customer, you must know who they are. If customer confusion reigns, invest the time in creating clarity.