What Your Customers Know About Fixing Your Organization that You Don't

There are as many approaches to conducting organization studies as there are practitioners. Typically, consultants (internal and external) gather data within the organization. This usually involves employee questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, and focus groups. Sometimes reviews of internal communication (policy manuals, newsletters, memoranda, etc.) are added to the mix.

While it is essential to gather information from those who work in the organization, external information sources (customers/clients, shareholders, vendors, etc.) can prove extremely valuable. Since all organizations exist to serve demand of some type, the most important external information source to any organization is its customers.

Marketing professionals routinely tap this vital information fount. They vigilantly track customer preferences, perceptions, expectations and levels of satisfaction regarding the company's products and services. This information is often held within the marketing department or is shared, on a limited basis, with such departments as research and development, production, engineering, finance and operations. Amazingly little, if any, information is shared with the human resources department, although it can have considerable value to those concerned with overall organizational effectiveness.

Despite the millions of dollars spent each year on customer surveys, seldom are such efforts coordinated with broader organizational development strategies. For that matter, seldom are organizational studies customer-focused.

It has long been our belief that those who limit organization assessment to internal questions and answers, lose the advantages of a broadened perspective. By adding information gathered from our clients' customers and prospective customers, we have gained critical insights that would not have surfaced in any other way.

Customer-focused organizational research can be a real eye-opener. When properly surveyed, customers can cast a revealing light on such aspects of organization as: communications, decision making, planning, training, authority levels, teamwork, coordination, and much more.

Management misses what may be the most important source of information when customers are excluded from organizational diagnosis. The reasons for not surveying customers, especially key customers, pale in comparison to the value of including them in an organizational assessment.