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Ask Your Customers, Users, and Beneficiaries What's Needed and What's Unnecessary

Jan 30, 2008
It's easy to lose a focus on what needs to be delivered in trying to reduce costs. When that happens, costs increase and benefits are reduced.

Here's an example. Most organizations that provide charitable help to the poor like to check to be sure that those who receive the benefits are really poor.

Arrive at such a charitable organization, and you find long lines of people being checked in, checked up on, and checked out. That checking process may involve as many people as those who are actually providing aid. The delays that the paperwork creates may also mean that recipients stand in lines for hours. Without the paperwork, the time needed for a pickup could be just a few minutes.

If you ask those who receive this aid, they find the whole process frustrating. On many occasions, people will tell you that after standing in line to receive such contributions they are turned away because the supplies run out before it is their turn.

Such problems become a bigger source of wasted time because recipients sometimes spend the night in line for morning aid distributions in climates where that's reasonably comfortable to do. Do you think that any aid recipient who goes through such a bureaucratic process favors the approach? We haven't met one yet.

Who else is inconvenienced by this approach? Young children may have to go through the same process because a single parent doesn't want to leave them at home unattended. If one adult in a household spends time going through these processes, that's one adult who has less time to provide other benefits for the family or to look for a job.

Each recipient has to be checked through each time. If the families were qualified once a year based on some simple process, the checking in and checking out process might be eliminated for the other 51 weeks of the year.

Better yet, some organizations have found that they could help more poor people by simply not checking on whether people are poor. If someone asks for help, the organizations just give the help. After all, there's only a modest resale value for what is given away.

You may be thinking that charities are a special case because they have responsibilities to those who contribute to be careful. That may be so, but how would donors feel if they understood the implications of such continual surveillance?

More puzzling is why so many businesses require extensive information before accepting a new customer. It's not unusual to have to fill out pages of forms, supply references, and provide access to credit record information to be able to buy small quantities of business supplies on credit.

The cost of that approach has to be an enormous percentage of revenues for customers who buy very little.

It was a great relief to many such customers when suppliers began to ask instead for company credit card numbers. These numbers are kept on file, and the charges can be processed and the cash received in seconds after an order is requested. The horribly inefficient credit department of a supplier in such a case has been replaced by the efficiency of an automated credit card network.

Yet until the 1990s, many suppliers to small enterprises in the United States simply wouldn't accept credit cards. One of the last to do so was that venerable U.S. government monopoly, the U.S. Postal Service. Would any customer have said that they didn't want to be able to pay with credit cards for their small business orders and postage? We doubt it.

When did you last ask your customers, users, and beneficiaries what you are doing that they don't need or like?

What did they tell you?

Have you eliminated those activities?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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