Marketing gurus almost always insist that organizations listen to the voices of their customers.

It is critical for the company to do so, but the question is: How?

Think of your organization as a living organism. You cannot have only the “skin” of the organization, the client interface––the Marketing department, the Sales department, or the Help Desk––be the only part of the body that “hears” what is happening “out there.” If information from the customer never penetrates to any other part of the organization, it will be unable to respond effectively.

So the question is: How do you make the customer’s voice heard throughout the entire organization, so that it can satisfy those customers’ expectations?

The answer, I believe, lies in changing the internal dynamic of the organization, and a good way to start is by changing the vocabulary. Your organization should be listening to the voice of the “client,” not the “customer.”

Usually, when we use the word “customer,” we are referring only to the Sales or Marketing department, which implies that those departments are the only ones that are obliged to listen.

I emphasize the term “client” to make the point that all parts of the organization must serve somebody. The interdependence of all parts has to be recognized. No single part of the organization, alone, can satisfy all of the commitments that an entire organization exists to fulfill.

Everything Has a Reason for Being

Look at any organism. Each part of the body exists in order to serve some other part. The heart has a client: its client is the rest of the body, and the service it performs for that client is to circulate the blood.

The lungs have a client: they send oxygen to the bloodstream.

The only entity in the body that doesn’t have a client, and serves only itself, is a cancer.

Organizational cancers are people or departments that serve no one but themselves. An organizational cancer arises when a person, a unit, or a work group, says, in effect:

● “We don’t know who our clients are, so how can we serve them”; or,

● “We do know who our clients are, but we do not know their needs (we’ve never asked); or,

● “We serve, but we do so on our own terms.”

An organizational cancer can impede healthy growth and adaptation, and even bring the enterprise to its demise.

Every manager, every employee, every unit of the organization, large or small, has a client to serve. If everyone in the organization serves his clients well, then the customer’s voice will be heard, and his needs will eventually be served.

Take the following chain for an illustration: Sales listens to the customer, then passes the information it receives to Marketing, which listens attentively, because the Sales department is one of its clients.

After analyzing the information, Marketing passes it, with its recommendations, to another of its clients: New Product Development or Improvement Engineering. Those departments serve Production, which is a client of  the Supply Chain Department.

As can be seen from this illustration, if all departments are listening to their clients, the customer’s voice will not only be heard, but will be listened to and acted upon.

How do businesses measure whether they are satisfying their customers? They measure revenues––repeat sales.

But how do you measure the success of departments that have internal clients, that do not actually buy goods and services?

To find out whether that unit is effective, you must ask yourself: “If this unit’s clients had a choice, would they come back?”

Be honest in your evaluation.

Or even better, ask the internal clients themselves to give you an honest answer.

Sincerely,

Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes

An earlier version of this piece has appeared as an appendix in :  Ernan Roman: “Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Revolutionary Five-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend and Stay” McGraw-Hill, 2010