Posted by: johnocunningham | June 1, 2009

Customer Driven / Client Based

A lot of law firms have adopted the “buzz words” of being “client-based” or “client-centric” as a kind of variation on the business theme of “customer driven.” But how many understand the origins and true meaning of the terminology?

When Edwards Deming and other disciples of the Total Quality Movement pioneered the concept of “customer driven” organizations, they helped their client companies to improve quality and to meet customer demands by redesigning company systems. These pioneers also had a vision that a true “customer driven” organization is one in which the organizational chart is actually inverted.

At the bottom of the pyramid, the CEO serves and supports the functional units and department heads. The senior managers serve the line managers, who support those on the front lines interacting with and serving the customers. At the very top of the pyramid is the broad base of customers, who tell the servers and line managers what to do, what not to do, what needs fixing and what doesn’t. The middle and senior managers exist primarily to push the necessary resources and support upward to insure that customers get what they want.

Deming and others like him essentially built the Japanese auto industry at a time when GM had a lock on nearly 50 percent of domestic market share (now a paltry 18 percent). While Detroit kept pushing “bigger is better” themes that came from the boardroom instead of the customer, Honda and Toyota were designing their products so that they fit the specs demanded by customers in surveys.

These foreign companies were also determined to change the perception that “Made in Japan” meant junk. So any one worker on the assembly line could pull a cord and halt production if there was a quality assembly problem. The customers were put in touch with the workers and they told management what needed to be fixed. It was management’s job to design a fix that worked for the customers and those who served them.

So how many law firms work this way? How many survey their “customers” and how many have “bottom up” or “360 degree” reviews? How many begin each and every day in each and every meeting by asking “how can we produce better quality, better pricing, better technology and efficiency, and faster delivery for our customers?” How many include all their employees in system redesigns? If your firm does all that, then it can truly say that it is “client-based” and “customer driven.”

If anyone knows of law firms that do operate in this manner, I am always looking for feedback on this and leads for new articles.

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