We’ve all heard the adage, “the customer is always right.” If you’ve ever worked in customer service, this phrase might make you want to roll your eyes, but the sentiment at the heart of this saying is crucial for successful organizations. The core message behind “the customer is always right” has evolved into an understanding that companies need to put customers at the heart of everything they do. Organizations that do this call themselves “customer-centric,” and they don’t just have quick ticket times for issues or 24/7 service. Being customer-centric touches every department and every project. This means that even the Project Management Office (PMO) can and should be customer-centric.
Why Being Customer-Centric is Imperative
If you work for a customer-centric organization or if your organization wants to shift to being more customer-centric, you might be thinking you have too much on your plate already to accommodate any added changes. I can understand this feeling, especially in a PMO, but customer centricity is an all-around win for everyone. Customer-centric organizations produce happy customers and happy customers are the key. It will always be less expensive to retain current customers than find new ones. Further, when a customer is happy with your products or services, they’ll stay loyal. This means they won’t be tempted by your competitors to try a new provider. From this perspective, being customer-centric is the most efficient way for organizations to stay ahead of competitors and continue to grow.
Customer centricity is imperative for success. This means product teams focus on developing products and services that specifically solve customers’ problems. Sales teams speak to customers in their own language. Customer success or customer service teams are quick to assist customers with any issues that arise. It might be easy to understand what customer-centricity looks like for other departments, but what does it look like in a PMO?
Although you might not realize it, a PMO can contribute substantially to making an organization customer-centric. As the department responsible for the coordination of projects, the PMO can exert considerable influence on customer centricity. PMOs set processes and standards for new project initiatives, help decision-makers have transparency into projects, and resolve conflicts with at-risk projects. These are all powerful and fundamental functions. The trickle-down effect of PMOs incorporating customer centricity into these functions can make the difference between just offering good customer service and actually becoming a customer-centric organization. Here are five ways you can make your PMO more customer-centric.
#1. Create a “Customer Impact” Criteria for Evaluation and Prioritization
As the body responsible for setting project management standards and processes, you can involve customer-centricity at the very start of a project idea by including customer impact criteria on all submitted initiatives. Ask anyone submitting a project initiative to rate how the project would impact customers. This sounds really basic, but it encourages people to submit project initiatives that are more than just passion projects or something someone considers “really cool.” When you slow people down to think about the customer, they may realize their idea is a little off the mark. Of course, you would want project initiatives to deliver a final product that positively impacts the customer, but it’s also important to consider what negative impacts a customer could experience during the execution of the project. For instance, would there be down time to consider when certain services or functions won’t be available?
Measuring customer impact doesn’t have to be complicated. You can use a simple scale between -3 and 3 where negative numbers reflect a negative impact to customers, 0 reflects no impact to customers, and 3 reflects a positive impact to customers. If you’d like to learn more about prioritization scoring, you can check out this blog post. Once you utilize a scoring model, your organization’s decision-makers can use it when evaluating new initiatives and prioritizing projects. The transparency into which projects will impact customers the most will help decision-makers understand which projects actually help achieve customer-centric goals.
#2 Create a “Customer Request” Criteria for Evaluation and Prioritization
If you’re creating a criteria for customer impact, you should also consider a criteria for customer requests or customer interest. Getting customer feedback is a gift. If customers take time out of their day to try and help you improve, you should be listening. When customers tell us we don’t offer something they need or they have a problem that we don’t quite solve, we can work to fix that with a project. If we don’t, we risk losing them as a customer. It’s important to the people who evaluate and prioritize projects to understand if a project comes from a customer request. While your organization might not be able to fix everything you receive feedback on, decision-makers will be able to make more informed decisions knowing what projects come from customer requests.
Measuring this criteria can be as simple as a “yes or no” on a new project proposal. For organizations with more advanced prioritization scoring, you can give a weighting to this criteria to reflect its importance or just allocate a higher number of points for a “yes” answer. If you’re looking to simplify your prioritization scoring, you can use our free template.
#3. Assign Projects to Stages in the Customer Journey
Hopefully, your projects are aligned to a specific goal or goals. Similarly, you can also assign projects and new initiatives to a specific stage in the customer journey. If you’re not familiar with the customer journey, it’s the steps a customer takes to make a purchase. There are many different versions of the customer journey, but it usually includes the following stages: awareness of a product or service, consideration of specific features or providers, purchase of a product or service, retention as a customer, and advocacy for the purchased product or service. Each step is necessary for producing happy customers, so when you define which projects support which stage of the journey, you can make sure your organization delivers every step of the way. Your organization might even discover that some steps require more work than others or that one particular step is getting focus it doesn’t need with too many projects.
#4. Utilize Project Sponsors
For high-impact projects, don’t be afraid to rely on project sponsors. Using different project personnel on a project can help ensure its success. According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), the project sponsor is “a person or group who provides resources and support for the project, program or portfolio for enabling success.” To put more simply, a project sponsor is an advocate who will make sure the project runs smoothly, resolve issues that put the project at risk and advocate for the project across stakeholders. A project sponsor can keep customer-centric projects moving toward the finish line while keeping the customer’s best interests to heart. If you’re ready to start utilizing project sponsors, you can learn more here.
#5. Listen to Colleagues Who Are Close to the Customer
Working in an PMO, you may not have any interaction with customers. This means you will need to lean on colleagues who work closely with customers to make sure the customer is represented in the PMO. These colleagues are experts in what the customer needs, how to speak to them and how your organization can help them. Make sure there are open lines of communication for these colleagues to provide feedback and concerns. If a colleague shares that they believe a certain project will impact customers more than has been estimated, have open ears to their concerns and take action on their recommendations. You also don’t have to wait for these colleagues to share the insight into the customer with you. You can reach out to them for guidance, ask them to share their opinion in meetings and remind other stakeholders in your organization that these colleagues often act as the voice of the customer.
Building a Culture Takes Time
Building a “customer-centric culture” in an organization can take time and everyone will need to do their part to make it a reality. PMOs play a crucial role in creating a customer-centric culture and their contribution should not be overlooked. As a customer-centric PMO, always look for new ways to refine and improve your processes. The more you work to put the customer at the heart of your work, the better the results. Also, your customers will thank you.