Customer-focused design and development works. It works for web development as we have learned that if people understand your graphical interface, your application is far superior to many competitors.
Customer-focused also works for products. One of our favorites books on the topic is The Design of Everyday Things. Mercedes-Benz created seat adjustment controls shaped in the L of a seat to allow intuitive adjustment without taking your eyes off of the road.
Another auto example is how things don’t work – like the fuel door on my 2004 Honda Odyssey being in the way of the drivers side sliding door when refueling. Toyota rode 100,000 miles with Mom’s before they redesigned the Sienna and the result is new leader in the mini-van category. Customer inputs made that redesign a huge succes for the auto maker.
Customer-focused works for physical space too. Architects have gotten into the groove using charettes – a combination of town hall meeting, brainstorming and old-fashion teamwork to design solutions that solve customer needs. How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand has some great examples of space changing over time becasue of customer needs. Who among us hasn’t edited our own homes with personal decisions based on our lives?
More importantly, customer focused works for organizations. Nordstrom is famous for their customer service, but it stems from their organizational chart – an inverted pyramid with the Board of Directors at the bottom and Customers at the top. Building customer-focused organizations starts with just that type bent. In The Roaring 2000’s Harry Dent described a little different tact on customer-focused organizations by having the sales people empowered to make decisions and recommendations to help customers more. His perfect company of the future was only seen in the background (like so many eBay entrepreneurs) while creating customized service for each buyer.
Customer-focused seems like common sense. After all – without any customers, you don’t have a business. But in a recent Inc. Magazine survey, CEOs of the fastest growing companies listed their top concerns as: competitive strategies, managing people, keeping up with technology, managing growth and finances. Nary a “customer” focus among them.
Going forward we can all improve on our customer focus. Try adding customer inputs to your next project whether that be home improvements or product development or application design. Chances are you will find a better solution based on the improved inputs.