Understanding Customer Focus

You’ve got to see the BIG picture

In some of my recent posts I have suggested that some people who work in the quality field might not have the most holistic or balanced view in the world. I get the impression many just can’t see the totality of business dynamics, relationships and motivators that make up the giddy world that is a functioning and functional organisation. I have also had reason to doubt whether the concept of efficiency is properly understood

Public sector pains

Yesterday I found myself reflecting on efficiency in the public sector. There are a lot of unhappy people in the public sector at the moment, no doubt worried about what the current economic problems will mean for them and their jobs. Whilst I fully sympathise with anyone who is worried about their job, fundamentally I do believe that a public sector organisation should never be allowed to think more about itself than its outputs. Public sector bodies exist purely to do a job, to deliver a set of outputs, hopefully in an efficient way. As soon as it starts shifting too much of its focus away from the number one objective and towards its own intrinsic needs, then I think problems are inevitable

Customer Focus is not an absolute concept

All that might not be such an earth shattering concept. An organisation should be customer focussed, that’s a universal truth isn’t it? Well, I’ve started to think more deeply about this. The thing is, whilst a public sector organisation may exist solely for the benefit of its customers, that is just not true of a commercial operation. Commercial operations exist primarily to achieve their own financial goals. satisfying the customer is a means to an end, but not an end in itself. Making a margin is goal number 1, and in some ways the only thing that matters. Senior managers realise this, but I’m not sure that all quality departments do. Let’s face it, if money was no object, satisfying the customer would be a piece of cake, but we just can’t run a sustainable business on those terms. All organisations need a balanced and transparent range of metrics, otherwise we run the risk of our priorities lurching one way then the other. One year we get our “quality” and customer satisfaction right – but our margins are poor. Next year our margins improve, but customer satisfaction drops. Balance and transparency is needed. Quality departments need to understand basic economic principles

This is one area where the EFQM Model is superior to ISO 9001. It focusses the organisation on a much broader range of financial and non-financial measures, plus it allocates “weighting” to different metrics to emphasise the relative priority and importance of each. I’m not too sure ISO 9001 considers the interests of critical stakeholder groups other than the end customer at all in fact. That can’t be right can it?

Anyway, to summarise, I think I’ve discovered a new business mantra

“A public sector company should never be allowed to care more about itself than its customers. A commercial company often has to

a customer survey form ticked excellent

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3 Responses to Understanding Customer Focus

  1. Yoel Yohan says:

    You have many concepts here. Please consider some thoughts below. Thanks – yoel
    1) – Most companies are so busy trying to impress financial analysts each quarter that they no longer look to the long term well being of a company.
    2) – Many times companies which are doing financially well are the poorest in customer focus, due to focusing more on their financial well being.
    3) – Internal focus is critical for creating the customer first/focus culture; however as long as corporations run on the short term gain outlook they will not take the long term effort to improve internally.
    4) – In summary “do you want to look good or be good.”

  2. shaun says:

    I agree that short-termism generally works against a healthy organisational culture, and that many companies have very short time lines, especially in these hard times. That’s part of my point that a balanced range of metrics is needed

    My other main point is that I worry that “quality types” sometimes become obsessed and myopic when it comes to “customer focus”. You always have to square the circle economically. It is actually quite easy to deliver 100% customer delight – you just give them every single thing they ask for – the real trick is delivering satisfaction AND making a decent buck. The second part of that equation should not be anything to be ashamed of, but “quality” tends to shy away from the concept. In fact its more than a concept, its a golden rule

  3. shaun says:


    Thanks for commenting Yoel. I liked the article you posted this week, by the way, I tweeted it on

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