Name your customer

Published by Tony Quinlan on

One of the major problems with change programmes is that those involved focus on the organisation.  There are good reasons, but it makes it an exercise in navel-gazing and group-think.

The language and interventions that appear from this approach are, therefore, highly mistaken and incomprehensible to anyone outside the inner circle.

A couple of years ago, we were two hours into a change design session I was facilitating for a large financial services company, looking at what changes they envisaged taking place, what the priorities were, etc.  When someone pointed out “we haven’t mentioned customers yet”.

It was, for some people there, a true “A-ha moment” as they realised how little they truly thought about customers.  For others, even more depressingly, it was an irrelevance – they were busy designing the organisation of the future.  The customers were out there, why worry about them?

One of the crucial elements in making customers central to any change is to bring them in at the centre of internal discussions.  But not as some abstract, bland cypher that everyone pays notional attention to while actually dismissing them.

Choose someone that typifies your customer – break them down in whichever way makes sense to cover your full markets.  And make them real, not some simple stereotype.  Name them, write their life story, find pictures of them and put those in the middle of the change team.  Film them in their lives, and play the footage to the meeting – have it on the wall behind you permanently projected as you work.  Hire an actor to play the character in every meeting.  Better yet, if you dare, bring a real, living, breathing customer in.


There are numerous benefits to this – but the most important one is this:  if one of your organisational values is about being customer-focused, this will test its truth and your honesty.  If the leaders in the team keep referring back to this real person, then it’ll also change the shape of all those silo wars that break out.