Blog  •  9 Jan 2020  •  4 min read

How to succeed with a help of a Customer Friend


By Chris Duffy, Principal Consultant at Optima Systems Consultancy

Driving successful delivery of a procurement programme in the defence sector is often a very challenging undertaking. Navigating through the complexities, presented from both the technical and contractual perspective, requires specialist knowledge and experience that are often sought from outside, via an independent, impartial “Customer Friend”.

Who is a Customer Friend

A Customer Friend possess specialist knowledge and technical skills that can be supplied at key stages of a programme from the concept phase (definition of requirements) through assessment (supporting option down-select) to entry into service of a new capability (through verification and validation of acceptance evidence).

Beyond the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience of the programme they are advising, Customer Friends also need softer, more nuanced skills to understand the relationships and communicate effectively and unambiguously to all stakeholders. Being an independent “outsider”, Customer Friends provide impartial advice.

Ten must-have attributes of a highly-effective Customer Friend

Which attributes elevate organisations to be regarded as highly-effective and invaluable to a programme?

Drawing on our experience at Optima Systems Consultancy, and informal feedback from our clients who have vast experience of employing Customer Friends, we pulled together 10 must-have attributes that lead to outstanding results and the best fulfilment of the client’s needs:

  1. A good Customer Friend is flexible and fits in to the team quickly without disruption and become “badgeless”, a team player.
  2. Someone who understands well what the customer wants, then helps them understand what they need – in a non-confrontational way.
  3. Soft skills and emotional intelligence are paramount. A Customer Friend has a good understanding of the team dynamics and the relationships between team members and what drives them.
  4. Being an excellent communicator, a great Customer Friend knows how and when to engage on different issues being identified.
  5. Discretion and integrity are essential. Understanding that it’s a privileged role and trust is never assumed but always earned. Gaining the total trust of the client and the team is key so they feel comfortable and empowered to bounce off ideas.
  6. A great Customer Friend understands the scope of the commission well and is confident to operate within the bounds of their remit without being brash and pushy or “going rogue”.
  7. Have a great understanding of the wider politics and how it affects the work whilst maintaining a respectful distance from it (unless advice is explicitly sought from the client).
  8. A good Customer Friend brings a fresh perspective onto extant processes that may hinder progress and propose alternatives in a pragmatic, constructive and appropriate way.
  9. An effective Customer Friend is resilient and deals with uncertainty Nailing down the specification of what needs doing, with the minimum level of guidance, are excellent traits.
  10. An excellent Customer Friend makes their role redundant by leaving a legacy behind, by transferring skills to the client team, often leaving a non-proprietary approach and supporting software tools.

Next time you need support from a Customer Friend…

At Optima Systems Consultancy, we work across Defence domains (Land, Maritime, Air and Joint) providing “Customer Friend” support services to ensure that solutions proposed by prime contractors fulfil their needs. We also support clients in the Civil Nuclear sector.

Using a specialist Customer Friend can bring tangible benefit to the business. You may feel that your project would benefit from an impartial external view or need specialist technical advice and experience that cannot be fulfilled internally. Perhaps you would value an independent view, from outside your organisation, so that you can access broader expertise and de-risk the programme with ongoing independent assurance.

If you feel your project could benefit from an experienced Customer Friend, get in touch with us. We will be pleased to discuss your specific needs and challenges.

#defence #nuclear #systemsengineering #customerfriend

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