Lean and Green Fundamentals: Customer Centricity

unsold cars

Giant car park of unsold cars in Spain.

Customer centricity is an essential part of Lean, but it’s equally important for companies striving to be green.

Waste is reduced when a company seeks to understand what a customer wants and when they want it.  Whether you’re in the degrowth or circular economy green school of thought, both agree that manufacturers should stop making products and services that people don’t want.  The resulting action is less material waste in the landfill from unwanted products, less energy used manufacturing, and less carbon emitted from transportation.

To achieve this goal, customer-centricity should be the pursuit of companies striving to reduce their environmental impact.  Having a deep and real-time understanding of what customers want shapes the way services and products are developed.  When you are in constant communication with your customers, it will be very clear where you are wasting your time and resources.

Lean Product and Process Development expert, Dr. Jim Morgan recently wrote, “In fact, [product development] is the very essence of creating customer value because it requires that you consider every activity needed to deliver that value from product concept through the end of its life cycle.”  Lean Product and Process Development could be seen as a partnership between companies and consumers.

Nordstrom is a great example of a thriving partnership.   They seamlessly incorporate customer wants with operational requirements in their production and development processes. They leverage social media in elegant ways and have developed proprietary technology to garner feedback at the start of product development, as well as offering around-the-clock customer support to track the use of each product throughout its life. Nordstrom has long been applauded for its customer service, but perhaps the greatest and unseen achievement is the amount of waste and environmental impact they’ve avoided by striving to know what their customers want.

Engaging with customers and production teams early in the development process does not guarantee a perfect product,  but it does help prevent the worst kind of surprize and waste: unsellable inventory.   

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