Organization Redesigns Must Be Customer-Centric

It’s no longer news that digital technology has changed the way we live, socialize, and do business. We are connected like never before through instant communication that enables us to share data, ideas, and innovations. Sometimes though, the evolution of how business is conducted can make leaders forget that the why of business remains the same—it’s still all about the customer. For your brand, your growth, and your bottom line to thrive, you need to provide a standout customer experience. Any organization redesign must start with that in mind.

The bigger and older an organization is, the greater the tendency to insulate and remove themselves from what customers are experiencing or even what they really want. Take the airline industry; over the years a majority of top brands have become calloused about what their customers care about. The result has been growing complaints about everything from lack of sufficient legroom to awful customer service. That kind of obliviousness has also infected many retailers who have fallen out of touch with what consumers really want by making assumptions rather than analyzing changing customer attitudes and preferences. Generally speaking, the businesses and organizations struggling the most are likely those that haven’t adapted to meet consumers’ changing wants and needs.

The point of an organization redesign is to achieve new or better results. Whether that’s increased sales, improved efficiency in processes or systems, or cost savings, the identified goals need to be articulated through the prism of an enhanced customer experience. Your strategy is developed based on the question: What customer needs are we primarily designing the organization to serve or to fulfill: fewer touch points, simpler payment options, better customer service support, faster delivery, more product or services options? Whatever the answer, it’s important to remember the truism that an organization design should always start outside and work in.

But once we get inside an organization, things can get complicated because not all departments or aspects of an organization necessarily think in terms of customer experience. Those in sales do so because they deal directly with customers, but those in IT may not. IT professionals likely want the organization to have happy customers, but it’s more abstract than a hands-on endeavor. Therefore, in an organization design, you have to create links that connect the customer to the different parts the organization.

If I go to a place in the organization that’s routinely interacting with the customer, that’s a primary link. But the minute I go one step further removed, I’ve created a link, and a link of assumptions. Sales might understand exactly what the customer wants, but the sales operations department, which mostly handles the paperwork for sales orders and shipment, tend not to have much customer contact. People in sales operations have to identify how their work links to sales, which is directly touching the customer. Being just one link removed, it should be easy for people in that department to see how they are creating something for the customer that matters.

Imagine if we establish links from sales to sales operations, to finance, and then to IT. By the time you get to IT, employees may not have a clue about the customer wants or needs because they’re interpreting that through all the other departments that came first. But if one of the goals of the redesign is to improve payment ease, people in IT can see how implementing a software that sends out invoices and offers online payments adds customer convenience while also improving efficiencies for the organization. It’s apparent to all employees involved that the design is being done with the customer in mind.

Another example is a car assembly line, which typically utilizes a concept called the next in-line recipient. You start with a chassis and along the line, each worker is assigned one very specific task. When that task is done, the process moves to the next worker who does their task, and so on until the product is made.

The same notion can apply inside an organization. Using the IT example, even though IT may not touch the end customer, they do have the next in-line recipient, somebody who is taking what IT is producing and then doing something to it, and so on. If you follow that line back, you’re eventually going to get to the customer. If anyone in that chain of the organization does something detrimental to the end experience for the customer, that’s a problem, and it may mean the organization needs a redesign.

The most effective organization designs are those that make the customer experience an active priority. Because of the cross-department collaboration required, that commitment to the customer experience needs to start with leaders at the top and be embraced throughout each department of the organization. Helping all stakeholders understanding how they link back to the customer is an important step in keeping your design customer-centric and reaping optimal benefits from your organization redesign.

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