Self Assessment: Who Is Our Primary Customer?


Leina‘ala Ahu Isa, Ph.D., Trustee, At-LargeAloha Mai Kakou!

As I write this article, I am thinking back to 2015 when our former Chair Robert Lindsey appointed me with the kuleana as Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Economic Innovations. My committee included several great pillars of Hawaii’s businesses who welcomed the opportunity to help OHA: Eddie Flores, Bert Kobayashi, Francis Oda, Derek Kanoa, and Ranson Kepa Shepherd. Our primary focus and intention was to maximize our trust funds. Our “mission” and purpose was to provide funds and to grow them into perpetuity so our future generations to come will not go without. Our members spent time in deliberation, intentional listening, and making decisions that were to move OHA forward in its overall mission of carrying out our fiduciary duties. Being a newly elected Trustee, in my naiveté I thought we could accomplish our mission; however, it became apparent how complex and difficult a task it would be to work within the organization.

In last year’s Ka Wai Ola’s December 2016 issue, I discussed the question “Who Is Our Primary Customer?” We don’t have “Customers,” that word is a Marketing term! We have kupuna, haumana, clients, recipients, patients.

Trustee Leina‘ala Ahu Isa with Ranson Kepa Shepherd, CEO of Virtue Cannabis, and NFL player Hau‘oli Kekaha of the New Orleans Saints. – Photo: Courtesy

Rather than debate ‘language,’ I want to ask the question: “Who must be satisfied for OHA to achieve results? It’s when you answer this question do you define your customer. I know it is very tempting to say, “But there is more than one primary customer!” But effective organizations resist this temptation, and keep their concentration and focus on The Primary Customer.

Identifying The Primary Customer

Let me give you a positive example of identifying and concentrating on the primary customer in a complex setting like OHA. Right now, our focus for our beneficiaries is: To increase people’s economic and social independence. OHA has more than 35 programs, which are in place to help the physically handicapped, single mothers who want to get off welfare, older workers who have been laid off, kupuna and elderly with no place to live and who need caregivers, people with persistent mental illness, those struggling against long-term chemical/alcohol dependency, and those in need of affordable rentals/housing. All of these people belong to the Primary Customer Group: Persons with Multiple Barriers.

Our primary customer is not necessarily someone you can reach; someone you can sit down with nor talk to directly. Whether or not you have active dialogue, identifying the primary customer puts your priorities in order and gives you a reference point for critical decision-making. They are customers which we, at OHA, must satisfy to achieve our results. These may be individuals who really need the service, want the service, but not in the way it is available today. An OHA that is devoted to ‘results’ – always with regard to its basic integrity – will adapt and change as their Customers’ (Beneficiaries’) needs do. Know your Customer…your Beneficiaries!

Be safe, Malama until next month! A hui hou, Trustee ‘Ala