by: Mark Boster and Margo Burnette
Are you confident that you are giving your customers what they want? Having been both government customers and consultants, Margo and I developed a list of what we believe are fundamental qualities that government employees – and commercial clients — want from their contractors.
Consider the following when you work with your customers:
Make Your Customers Look Good
Never forget that it is about them, not you or your company . They do not care how much you know, and they do not care if you are “making your numbers”; they care about how you can help them accomplish their goals. The goal from your customer’s perspective is to complete the work successfully and make them look good. The first time I heard this concept was in the early 80s when I worked for the Department of the Interior. One of my contractors (thanks, Judi) told me her job was to make me look good.
I honestly did not understand what she was saying until several years later when I realized that what she said was true and her actions supported her goal. Making our customers look good means that we listen to what they want, help them through difficult times, ensure there are no surprises, complete the work on-schedule and within budget, and deliver a system / provide a solution that makes their users ecstatic. Why would they ever settle for anything less?
Part of your job to making your customers look good involves building an open, professional relationship that is based on honesty, openness, no surprises, and no excuses. When problems or issues develop at the customers site, raise them to your supervisor or manager immediately and be careful where and how you discuss it outside your immediate office.
Understand Your Role and Their Expectations
It is always important to remember that you are an employee of your company. While customers will see you as smart, capable, and reasonable, they will also see you as hired help. Being hired help is good because it allows you to do your jobs without a lot of bureaucratic encumbrances.
When we work at a government site, it is important that we act as guests and respect their rules and customs. Most important, don’t go “native.” Going native is a common term in our industry to describe company employees who have lost their company identity and are indistinguishable from customer employees.
When a customer says, “this is important,” be interested and WRITE IT DOWN. Customers want to know that you are listening to them. There is nothing more frustrating than having a discussion with a contractor and walk away thinking they were not listening.
They Hired the Company, Not a Bunch of Individuals
Our business is a team sport, not an individual sport. Your company is successful because it understands this principal and incorporates it into the entire organization. Customers want team players because the synergy from teamwork is important and usually impressive. Make a point of leaving your ego at the door and concentrate on working as a team.
Your customer wants each of you to do what you say you are going to do. I was always amazed when I was a Federal customer how quickly I lost respect and interest in companies whose people talked a good game but never followed-through. Always do what you say we will do when it is supposed to be done. That is what makes an “A” player in a top rated company.
During our Federal careers, we learned the value of hiring quality contractors. We also learned how easy it was to get rid of poorly performing ones. Always keep your customers’ interest first, and remember – it really is about them, not you.