Who is Your Customer?

by | May 3, 2013

Who is Your Customer?  This may be easy for many businesses especially if they are selling consumer goods.  If you ask any service organization at a University, the standard response is “Students are our main customers”.  The rationale here is that without our students, we wouldn’t have a university.  At a very high level this is true.

Does this really help a service organization like the IT Department?  If we take this restricted view of customer, can we see the full “marketplace” we serve?   Does this focus on one customer restrict definition and planning of service delivery?

If your organization or department provides IT Services to a university or other higher education institution, the answer to the question becomes much less clear.  Several weeks ago, we ran a workshop with our Academic Computing Group and our IT Department staff at the American University of Sharjah.  We tried to answer the question.   We broke the larger group of about 35 people into four teams. Here was the process we tried:

  1. Brainstorm a list of “who” you serve
  2. Each group writes their list and we consolidate into a common list
  3. Vote by show of hands to rank the list within your groups
  4. Each person gets 1 vote for who they think is most important for the Top Rank
  5. Each person gets 1 vote for who they think is most important for the Second Rank

Outcome: Ranked list of who we serve = a prioritized list of our customers

For step 1, each team wrote (the standards)  Students, Faculty and Staff.  Then, they started to broaden their view and other groups like:

  • researchers
  • dormitory and housing residents
  • guests
  • partners
  • vendors.  

It became very clear that we don’t just serve one customer.  For the final step, we really struggled with prioritizing who gets the most resources dedicated to them.

Not surprising, every team identified that the Executive leadership of the University get preferential treatment.  In fact, this group gets the highest rank over every other group.  This was a unanimous outcome even though it was not very popular.  The reality is that in every organization, the Executive leadership get a platinuim level of service.   We agreed that the people who make the fundamental decisions about the organization should never see technology as a barrier to their work.  So the customer for this service principle is clearly the Executive leadership group.

We also agreed that our goal is to never let a class be cancelled due to a technology issue.  This is a fundamental principle and respects the contract made between our university and our students.   Students pay us tuition and we deliver the cirriculum to support their learning. When you breakdown who the customer is for this principle, things get a bit cloudy.   In reality, the primary customer for academic IT is the faculty member not the student.   Our classrooms have technology to enable the faculty member to deliver their materials and this must work for the class to run.  If we empower our faculty then we enable our students. 

Here is a Stakeholder Model that we mapped our Customers to.  This model helps us understand who we serve and will guide the development of our Core Service Catalogue.  The central circle encompasses the core activites we deliver.  The Community box contains the customer groups we serve.  The Governors box contains stakeholders who define the rules in which we work.  The Partners box contains groups that help us refine and improve our service delivery.  The Service Providers box contains those organizations that we rely on to help us deliver technology services to the University.

Customer/Stakeholder Model

Customer/Stakeholder Model

Message me if you would like the PowerPoint template.  Does this model help you?  Do you use another model that you can share with me?

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