Let’s Agree to Kill the Word “Customer” From Purchasing Lingo
How did this word come about? Calling internal people who generate demand the “customer”? And when I hear that word used in our profession, everyone knows exactly what it means. Nobody questions it either. Why?
Think about the definition of a customer. Actually, step back for a second, and think about why you were hired.
Purchasing is one of only three parties inside of a company that is authorized to commit funds to external companies. The other parties are Corporate VP’s and above and also procurement card holders for relatively trivial transactions.
But the vast majority of dollars, and therefore the corporate road to TCO, goes through purchasing.
So rewind back to the definition of the customer….in OUR profession. If your job is to drive maximum profit and to minimize TCO for the company, then who should your allegiance be to? Who should it really be to?
To answer the question, your allegiance should be to the people way up the food chain who are on the hook for TCO.
Who are these people? That would be the taxpayers in the public sector and the board of directors and stockholders/owners in the private sector. End of discussion.
So let’s put this “customer” expression to bed. The person who generates demand internally is the END USER. They are the DEMAND GENERATOR. They *are not* the customer.
So guess what happens when you call the end user the customer? “The customer is always right,” isn’t that what they always say?
Well, in our profession, if the customer was always right, we’d be overnighting everything, we wouldn’t challenge anything, and purchasing would rubber stamp all customer decisions.
On top of that, now you have to start doing customer satisfaction surveys, and I know for a fact tons of you out there are being forced to do just that. And your management wants all these customer surveys to have off the chart results, right?
So how do you get your “customers” to give you off the charts results on customer surveys?
Well, you overnight everything, you don’t challenge anything, and you make sure the customer takes full advantage of their apparent right…..wait for it….wait for it…. to always be right.
I have always said that our entire profession is broken. Just completely broken. I’m not tooting my horn when I tell you that nobody does what I do. I don’t teach how to do what you are already doing, only a lot better. You can read any antiquated purchasing book out there to learn that. You don’t need me.
I teach why most everything we’ve been taught to do as purchasing professionals is about as counter-productive as can be, and what you need to be doing differently, starting yesterday.
Although I spend almost all my time teaching in one form or another, I’ve never actually viewed my job as teaching. I create change. That’s what I do.
But of course, commitment to change requires dance partners. You have to be willing to dance with me (that is a really terrible visual, and I apologize for that).
Here’s what I really meant: I want you to start policing all purchasing professionals starting now, including yourself. Repeat after me: “I will never use the word ‘customer’ again. From now on, I will call them ‘end users’ instead”.
Being an end user instead of a customer means that part of our job is to challenge, and sometimes the end user won’t get what they want, because you are doing the right thing for the company or agency. And they may not be totally thrilled about it either.
I’m not suggesting to have an adversarial relationship with end users. Far from it. We should absolutely strive for a collaborative and productive relationship that involves two way dialogue, as well as give and take where appropriate.
But sometimes you have to take a tough stand with end users, and taking a tough stand is not easy.
You have to have thick skin to be in our profession. If you can’t analyze the facts and know when to say “NO” to end users, you are not cut out to be a purchasing professional.
Don’t despair though. Purchasing professionals aren’t born with these skills. You can develop them. You can be a world class purchasing professional, actually. I’m here to help you.
You’ll never hear me stop saying this: We’re in the best profession in the world. Now go out there and make something happen.
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