How to Define Your Ultimate Customer

Defining your Ultimate Goal and Customer

The idea of the “Ultimate Customer” is an important aspect of outcome-based goal setting and creating a performance-based work culture. I always ask leaders, “Do your employees know who their customer is? The answer isn’t always clear and the conversation turns to the specifics of just how an organization goes about defining who the ultimate customer is.

This is simply one aspect of a wider discussion about outcome-based goal-setting, which begins with getting everyone on the same page. This is how we achieve measurable, effective, and attainable results. Outcome-based thinking creates an atmosphere in which performance is managed continuously. That means all of the time, not just during the annual performance review.

There are 5 questions that everyone needs to be able to answer in order to be part of a dynamic performance-based organization:

  1. What is the ultimate outcome?
  2. Who is the ultimate customer?
  3. What are we doing that is enabling the ultimate outcome?
  4. What are we doing that’s not?
  5. How will we measure success?

Ask yourself: does everyone on your team or in your organization know what ultimate outcome you are trying to achieve? You probably won’t find it in the vision or mission statement – which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Getting to the ultimate outcome can be a challenge in itself and requires a team effort and possibly additional resources.

Once people are supporting the broader outcome – one they remember, that excites them – it’s time to figure out who the ultimate customer is.

And there is only one customer. Everyone else acts as a resource or tool to help you delight the ultimate customer.

Often, you will hear people say ‘everyone is my customer’ or ‘I have internal and external customers’. Trust me, it just doesn’t work. When you’re serving 14 different customers, the real customer becomes lost.


1. Identify who’s not the customer

Example: If you’re in Public Relations, you may say that the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine or a particular journalist is your customer. But of course they’re not. They’re a resource that you tap to communicate to your ultimate customer – perhaps about your organization’s new product or efforts to ‘go green.’ In either case, you’re talking to the customer – and that’s not a journalist.

2. Do this exercise with your team to figure out who the ultimate customer is:

Everyone in the organization must agree on who this is so that employees direct all work activities towards delighting the one customer.

For ABC Car Gadgets, the ultimate customer is the shopper who buys parts and services – whether in their stores or on their website.


If everyone we thought was our customer is now our resource, who is our ultimate customer?


Some might say, “Well, that’s easy for a store clerk to figure out at ABC Car Gadgets. They come in direct contact with the customer every day. I’m in corporate Human Resources and spend my time serving what I thought were my corporate clients in the office every day. How do I affect the ‘ultimate customer’?”

This is what every person in every position of every department needs to figure out and connect to. Otherwise, your work activities might fit nicely into your S.M.A.R.T. goal; but might still be irrelevant to the organization’s ultimate goals.


The Human Resources employee is responsible for corporate culture, retaining and attracting talent, management coaching and the like. If they do their job well, then the resources (employees) have the right foundation to do their jobs well, and this, in turn, filters down to the ultimate customer. If they don’t do their jobs well, then engagement, morale and productivity suffer and, in turn, these declines affect – you guessed it – the ultimate customer.


Have each person trace how their role affects the ultimate customer. This will be a critical piece in defining measurable goals that achieve results against the ultimate outcome.

How do you get everyone in your organization connected to the ultimate goal and ultimate customer? 

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Jody Thompson

Jody Thompson, along with her partner Cali Ressler, is the Founder of CultureRx and co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Jody is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and bestselling author. She has been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, HR Executive Magazine, and the New York Times. You can find her on Linkedin.

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