The Nuance Between Customers and Partners

Before you can create your customer experience (CX) strategy, you have to answer the key question: Who are your customers?

Consider the concept that among the groups you interact with internally, you could be their customer, they could be your customer, or you could be partners.

In our office, we have two organizations that support our programs: a business office and the internal technology support organization. Our business office includes personnel, contracting, budget, space, etc., and works with our agency-wide functions like the Chief People Office, Chief Financial Office, etc. Our internal technology support organization provides infrastructure, development, security, etc support for our programs.

When we began discussing our CX program, both of the internal support organizations were somewhat insulted that we considered ourselves their customers. They considered themselves partners. At first I didn’t understand the distinction or why they perceived this label in any certain way.

After both internal discussions and discussions with external experts, I discovered that there are two trains of thought in this area:

  • There is an unspoken hierarchy as a customer, but is the customer always right? A customer can set unrealistic expectations or service levels.
  • On the other hand, a partnership denotes a more equal relationship where the business or program people work together collaboratively on a daily basis with the IT or support organization to achieve a common goal.

As you create your Customer Experience (CX) strategy, analyzing your customers and their journey with your organization, it quickly becomes obvious that you don’t have total control of every step in their journey. Your program likely relies on other organizations to succeed.

This is true in both the government and industry. For example, define how the service and performance of internal organizations impact your ability to serve your external customers. Map the intersections and opportunities where your program and the internal partners connect, or could connect, to support one another in serving your external customers.

Here are three of the lessons that I learned through this process:

  1. Keep an open mind as you create your CX strategy to new ways of thinking.
  2. Having an open conversation about the relationship will help determine the most efficient way to achieve your common goals.
  3. Don’t think that you can improve the overall experience you provide to customers without addressing the performance you get from internal organizations that you depend on.

Tells us what methods you use to understand your customers. What’s worked the best? What are your biggest challenges?

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