Why Listening to Customers Makes Your Company Stronger
It seems like it makes total sense however I can’t tell you how many companies forget to ask their customers how they use the company’s product. What’s more, customer satisfaction surveys are quite often designed to give results the company wants to hear – not always reality. And customer meetings turn in to pitch-fests with the customer barely getting to speak.
Hearing what a prospective customer planned to do with the product was the best thing that could have happened to a software company I worked with in the Boston area. There were things the customer wanted that hadn’t been designed in; things the customer insisted were important. The company had a long list of enhancements and ‘bug’ fixes and wasn’t really sure why anyone would need the particular functions being requested but the customer was being very vocal. Smart company: they decided to listen with intent. When the developers and marketers still didn’t ‘get it’, they decided to go watch some of the users, well, try to use it. That was the ‘aha’ moment.
At a Cleveland-based company, a product team was meeting with some users of their product in a factory setting. During the 20 minute conversation, an inefficient pattern – one that really had little to do with the product – was observed. During lunch, one of the team members mentioned his observation. It turned out that by creating a new mounting and wiring mechanism, the customer would have other options for where the product was installed. By moving the equipment, 10 tiring steps up and back several times a day would be eliminated, saving each employee valuable minutes and energy. It might not sound like much, but in the course of a week, it added up to a great deal of saved time, and it was only possible because we were on site.
Smart companies involve employees from cross-functional disciplines in assuring customer success. Corporate and field marketing teams need to get out and talk to customers and prospects and be the voice of the customer. The best companies get their developer and designers in front of customers, too. In both of the cases above, asking and listening were good first steps, but observation and cooperation were what made the difference. Visiting and collaborating with customers should be the normal way of operating, not a burden or exception.
Face-to-face meetings are the best way. Employees will feel pride of ownership for company success and even the R&D folks will tell stories about ‘when I visited that trading floor on Wall Street…’.
Innovation does not occur in a vacuum.
Photo by gadl
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