How to Achieve a Customer Focus
This section guides you through the key steps that public health agencies and programs can take to achieve a customer focus. It explains what each step is and how to complete it.
Identifying customers is one of the first steps to achieving a customer focus in a public health program or agency. It is important to identify who your customers are for each program/service/product you provide because different customers want and need different things. The more specific you can be when identifying your customers, the easier it will be to determine their wants and needs and the more successful your agency or program will be at achieving a customer focus.
Customers [define: customer] are the direct recipients or users of the programs, services, and products provided. They can be both internal and external (see examples below) to your agency or program. Another term you may use to describe customers is stakeholders. However, in a customer-focused agency or program, stakeholders and customers want or care about different things and therefore, need to be distinguished. Stakeholders [define: stakeholder] care about and are interested in the programs/services/products provided but, unlike customers, stakeholders do not necessarily use them.
|Program, Product, Service||Customer||Stakeholder|
|Conduct restaurant inspections||Restaurant owners||People who dine at restaurants|
|Give immunizations||Patients receiving immunizations||Advisory board|
|Develop and maintain website||Website users||General public|
|Provide new employee orientation||New employees||Employer|
|Write reports||Other health agencies||Program manager|
To begin to identify your customers, create a list or table (like the one above) and ask yourself the following questions:
- What programs/services/products do I provide? What do I do?
- Who is the recipient of my programs/services/products?
You may also choose to identify stakeholders in order to help you narrow down your customers appropriately. A template is available for identifying customers that you may find helpful to use:
- Customer Identification Worksheet (DOC)
Minnesota Dept. of Health
A free tool used to help you identify your customers and their needs based on what program/service/product you are providing.
Prioritize Where to Focus
Due to capacity and resources, it may be necessary to limit your customer focus activities to certain programs/services/products. If you need to limit what programs/services/products you focus on, here are some criteria to help you prioritize them (in no specific order):
- Largest number of people served
- Largest program/service/product, in terms of budget or staff
- There are clear opportunities for improvement (e.g., programs/services/ products with known complaints or issues)
- Highest strategic priority
- High profile programs/services/products, or programs/services/products with known controversy
Determine Customer Needs and Requirements
Another step in achieving a customer focus is to identify your customers' needs and requirements for the programs/services/products you plan to focus on. Customer needs and requirements are the qualities that make customers satisfied with a program/product/service. This is also referred to as the voice of the customer (VOC) [define: voice of the customer]. Examples include, but are not limited to, things like:
- Convenience (was it easy to obtain or participate in the program/ service/product?)
- Reliability (is performance consistent each time the program/product/ service is delivered?)
- Staff attitude (were the staff courteous, polite, friendly?)
To understand what your customer needs and requirements are, you must ask them. This can be done by way of interviews, surveys, focus groups, complaints, customer observations, or even expert groups (e.g., talking to staff who provide the programs/products/services directly to the customers). The important thing is to identify and use this information. How you identify it will depend on the resources and capacity you have available.
It is important to regularly gather this information because customer needs and requirements change over time. You use this information to inform how you measure what satisfies your customers and to understand what has changed.
Tools to help determine and prioritize customer needs and requirements include:
- Critical to Quality (CTQ) Tree
The CTQ Tree is a tool used to translate broad needs and requirements into specific, measureable performance requirements.
- Kano Model
The Kano Model is a tool that helps prioritize customer needs and requirements by grouping them into three categories: Expected Quality (must haves), Normal or Performance Quality, and Exciting Quality.
Collect and Analyze Customer Information
After determining customer needs and requirements, the next step in achieving a customer focus is to regularly collect and analyze customer information. The customer information collected and analyzed here, as opposed to that from the previous step, is used to inform you about customer satisfaction [define: customer satisfaction] and whether or not you are meeting your customer needs and requirements.
The collection and analysis of customer information can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. The important thing is to collect information that you will use. If you are not going to use it, why use resources and take the time to collect it?
The most common methods used to collect and analyze customer information are:
Large sample sizes (more representative and generalizable)
Provide quantitative and qualitative data
Need well-written questions
Low response rates
Can read body language, if in-person
Need a good facilitator and recorder
Qualitative data only
Not everyone is comfortable speaking up in a group setting
Can read body language, if in-person
Qualitative data only
Comment/ Complaint Cards
Specific, detailed information about likes/dislikes
Repeat comments/complaints confirms customer need/requirement
Most people do not complain; they just go somewhere else or stop using the program/ product/service
Low rates of completion
Best Practices and Analysis
Length: as short as possible
Likert Scale: median and range
Open-ended: categorization or themes, if possible
|Use focus groups in addition to a quantitative method. For example, can be used to help interpret results of the other method.||Categorization or themes|
|Categorization or themes|
Comment/ Complaint Cards
|Categorization or themes|
While many of these methods will not provide you with statistical validity or generalizability (i.e., you will not get research-level, statistically sound data), that level of rigor is not always necessary--especially when you are just beginning to focus on customers. Choose the method(s) that will work for your agency or program based on your capacity and use of the information.
For example, a smaller change, like the addition of signage, could be made based on a less rigorous and a smaller amount of customer information. A larger change, like the reallocation of resources, or design and development of a new program/product/service, would require higher quality and a larger amount of customer information.
Once you determine the method(s) you will use to collect and analyze customer information, you will need to develop the following components, which will helpwith consistency and accountability:
- Data collection tool
The data collection tool contains the questions, instructions, and guidance that become the method(s) you use to regularly collect customer information.
- Data collection plan
The data collection plan outlines the process you use to collect customer information. It includes the purpose for collecting the information, frequency of collection, the tool used to collect it, where and how the collected information is stored, and the person(s) responsible for collecting it.
- Data analysis plan
The data analysis plan outlines the process you use to analyze the customer information you collect. It includes the frequency of analysis, where the information to be analyzed is stored, the person(s) responsible for the doing the analysis, and the type of analysis performed. It could also include any specific performance measures [define: performance measures] and their respected targets, if appropriate. You may choose to combine the customer information collection and analysis plans into one document, if that makes more sense for your agency or program.
For more detailed books, tools, and websites related to measurement, analysis, and reporting, visit Resources.
Take Action: Use and Share Customer Information
Taking action and using the customer information you collect and analyze is the most important part of a customer-focused agency or program. Taking action both starts and ends with sharing customer information with the appropriate stakeholders and customers. You will want to share the customer information you gathered and analyzed with decision-makers for use in making their decisions. You will also want to share the decisions made and actions taken with those impacted by the decisions.
To ensure customer information is shared consistently and regularly, it is important to develop a plan for sharing customer information (a plan like this is also known as a communication or reporting plan). This plan will include who receives the information, why they receive it, the frequency they receive it, how they receive it, and the specific information they receive. It should also include who is responsible for carrying out the plan.
With whom and when you share customer information will depend on the purpose for sharing it. Consider sharing customer information with:
- Agency/program leadership
- Agency/program staff
- Governing board, elected officials, or advisory board
- General public or other stakeholders
Reasons to share customer information include:
- To demonstrate transparency
- To show customers that the information is being looked at and acted on
- As a means to promote the customer focus of your agency or program
- To encourage use of the information for making decisions
- To inform your agency or program on how to meet your customers' expectations and increase customer satisfaction
As part of your plan for sharing customer information, you will want to create templates for each audience you choose to share the information with. Creating templates will help with consistency and ease of regularly sharing the information. Templates used to share customer information can be as simple or complex as you would like to make them, and will look different depending on your audience and purpose.
Again, taking action and using the customer information you collect and analyze is the most important part of a customer-focused agency or program.
Examples of decisions and actions resulting from customer information include:
- Adding evening hours to immunization clinics, so more patients are able to attend
- Creating a mobile version of the agency website, so users can view it on their mobile devices
- Sending email reminders a few days before timecards are due, so that employees do not forget to submit them and have their paychecks delayed
- Including a summary of key points and next steps with restaurant inspection reports, so that restaurant owners can more easily understand the inspection results.
Examples of how other health departments have used customer data to improve can be found on the Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange website.