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Satisfying the Customer – An Example

This is an example linking back to my last article – “Satisfying the Customer… Satisfying Who?

The question of the customer is one that apparently deserves a little more attention. Let’s move away from theory and principle to practical application of the principle set forth in the last article: the customer is the purchaser of your organization’s goods and/or services.

Let’s look at a fairly typical example in today’s web infused business environment.

The organization sets up a website to sell its products or services to the public. The website works. There is a checkout facility reminiscent of a grocery store shopping cart. The user experience folks have given it their blessing and the site is up and running. After a while the site begins to attract a steady stream of visitors and buyers.

The request comes down from on high for a new feature: registration of all the visitors to the site.

There are several constituents who are affected or impacted by this initiative.

The Marketing Department wants registration so that it can gather information on people visiting the site to correlate with other information that they have collected, do analysis and studies to see what kind of people by what items, and to add to their large mailing list of current and potential purchasers. Marketing sees this as a way of achieving several of its goals, such as increasing the number of entries in their marketing mailing list and measuring the market penetration of the website in social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Sales Department is behind the idea. They see sales increasing to meet their goal if they can focus the marketing while the person is buying. They view the registration as a way of creating a candy and magazine display at the checkout counter, where they can increase sales through impulse buying. They wish to use the buying habits and personal information of a registered buyer to suggest additional items to be purchased at checkout now or in the future.

Customer Service supports the initiative. They see it as a way of anticipating problems, delivering more focused and immediate solutions to customers’ issues, and providing a more personal service to the customers, which may increase the customers’ loyalty. All this together will help them achieve their goal of reducing the time per customer service call and eventually perhaps the overall cost of customer service.

Security says that they will feel a lot more comfortable about the general public using the website if security knows who those people are at all times. Security is always in favor of increased information on everyone.

And the Legal Department is pushing for this feature because they feel that the registration process can include certain contractual language and disclaimer information so that the visitors to the website cannot hold the organization accountable for errors and omissions that may occur while using the website.

So everyone is in favor of the registration process and each constituent has something to gain by a successful initiative. Marketing wants registration as soon as someone lands on the website home page to increase the number of people who will register, Marketing’s proposal is that no one can get the benefit of the information on the website or see the products that are available without registering. Sales and Customer Service hold for a registration prior to purchasing something so that visitors can come to the website unregistered and possibly see something to buy. Then, since they want to buy something they will be more inclined to register.

You are assigned to be the business analyst on this initiative. Your job ostensibly is to determine what needs to be done to implement a registration process on the organization’s website.

You gather information from the various constituents and since the initiative is being managed or driven by marketing, you set about to define the requirements necessary to capture the registration when people come to the website. You define what information is necessary, how the registration process will take place (as a pop up box, new page, etc.), where and when the visitors to the site will be required to register, what they can do without registering, and the general language that will be presented to the visitors. You as business analyst gather the information, define the requirements, work with the solution team to produce the final registration feature, and oversee the implementation.

You also spend time for discussions with sales and customer service, legal and security because they have a vested interest in the outcome of the initiative. But each department has its own vested interest. The Sales department is only interested in getting registrations for customers who actually buy products. In fact they are insistent on it. And now you have a situation: do you define a solution as marketing, the department ostensibly paying for the software or sales who is claiming a loss of sales to the organization if you adopt Marketing’s solution? 

We might consider each of the departments as our customer insofar as the initiative is concerned. If Marketing is paying for the changes, then Marketing might be considered our customer just because they are paying for it. However, in the course of preparing the definition of the solution we may talk about each of the constituents being our ‘customer”. Each has to be satisfied. What happens if Security wants additional information on customers and Sales considers the information intrusive, and legal is concerned about privacy issues? 

Perhaps there is another customer that the business analyst should consider? Those who will actually be using the web site: the customer of the organization.

Each of the departments reviewing the initiative does take the customer into account, but each sees the customer from a different perspective. Legal sees the customer as a lawsuit; customer service sees the customer as a question or complaint; security sees the customer as a threat; sales and marketing see the customer as numbers. Suppose you decide to view the customer as a person using the web site and you assume a goal that you want that person to be a purchaser of the organization’s products now and in the future.

Let’s consider the results if you investigate consumer reactions to a registration process, or even think about your own reactions to a registration process. You determine that those who register will be getting emails and other marketing materials automatically, and they will have to opt out of each individual marketing program. You do some surveys and discover that people who are required to register before looking at goods and services will likely leave the website and go to another competitor who allows viewing of the goods and services without registering. Or perhaps you check out the competitors’ similar websites and note that the more successful sites offer an incentive for registration such as ten percent off the sale and that the sites offer registration at several points during the shopping and buying process. 

In other words, focusing on the real customer of the initiative, the real customer of the organization will generate new and different perspectives which will add value to the organization over and above those solutions suggested by the internal departments, including IT. 

It should be noted that a business analyst who might attempt such a departure from the expected might have some difficulty with the project manager and others from IT who are working for their “customer” who in this case might be the Marketing department. In other words, the standard line in IT seems to be to “keep the (internal) customer satisfied” even when that customer may be wrong. As one senior developer working in an agile environment told me, “If it’s on the product backlog, we do it”.

Now this particular conundrum might not occur in your world. However, it is not a made up example. The end result of the initiative was a successful registration process that did not follow marketing’s recommendation to force registration, and did not even require registration to purchase goods as was insisted on by sales, but the end result satisfied the web consumers and built up a repository of positive registrants with a low opt-out ratio and a high repeat sales ratio. The success was due to a focus on the real customer instead of what was Oh, and the business analyst did have to withstand a lot of pressure from the project manager and team (not to mention marketing) for not paying attention to what “the requirements” of the initiative were. 

We talk a lot in these pages about the business analyst being an agent of the business for the solution team, or the business facing member of the solution team. And we generally assume that ‘business’ refers to the people who run the business: the purchase order managers, the order entry clerks, the marketing people, the inventory people and so forth. But what we really should do is consider what business the organization is in. Then we can define the ‘business’ aspect of the business analyst. The business analyst focuses on the business of the organization not the business people in the organization, and that means those who keep the organization in business.

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