Author: Ian George - Categories: Procurement Strategy
In the 1980s I was an apprentice in the West Midlands. In the assembly shop was a huge poster of a majestic lion with the words "The Customer is King" emblazoned across it. In a similar vein, I have read and often heard the quote "the customer is always right". I wonder how much these two statements have cost both industry and society over the years?
Reframing these quotes from their more usual and blasé interpretation might just be worth a minute of our time:
"The customer is king" - our external (and internal) customers should drive decisions and be the focus of everything we do. This doesn't necessarily mean that they should dictate everything we do. Sometimes it's the suppliers that are actually the experts and therefore the ones that know how to add real value. Perhaps procurement's role shouldn't be simply to get the customer what they wanted. Perhaps in the complex environments which we inhabit today, the focus should be to bring the customer and supplier closer together so that they can explore what the best option might look like.
"The customer is always right" - the customer knows two things: what experience has taught them and what people have told them through various media. Anything else is beyond their visibility - you don't know what you don't know. As human beings we solve problems by pattern matching. We look for solutions from our knowledge and experience that fit the problem. Unfortunately, we don't tend to seek out the strongest match, often we accept the first match that we find acceptable.
Demand management does not assume that customers are stupid. What it assumes is that the more perspectives and help you can give, the better the chances of generating a good solution for all. Maybe 'good' procurement is more about facilitating the best possible solution than gratifying a perceived need.