It’s really not about you: It’s about your customers
Dr. Marla GottschalkDecember 07, 2012
I have heard my share of explanations as to why a business might not be thriving. The reasons run the gamut – from losing key employees – to rather complicated snafus with suppliers. However, in some instances, I am not entirely convinced that the expressed challenges are the root of the organization’s struggles. Something seems to be missing. At that point, I usually take a U-turn with the diagnostic process and ask this question: “How do you think your customers view your business?” This can often bring a moment of pause.
Truly understanding how you are perceived by your customers is pivotal to growth and development. One path to achieve this, is making the commitment to become “brutally” customer-centric. This requires exploring your customer’s journey – and gathering information about key “touch points” along the way. What do your customers really think of your sales organization? Product offerings and processes? Your level of service? You may be completely surprised to hear what your customers are really thinking (and experiencing) – and we can learn so much from them.
One radical idea to effectively obtain this information, is to simply ask them. Face to face – with no rehearsal (no surveys here). This feedback can be crucial – because ultimately, if you are unaware of an issue – you will not have the opportunity to shift your strategy. A useful method to do just this, (described in this HBR post) is to utilize a customer panel. This process won’t take the place of exhaustive customer research, but the potential payoff can be sizable. Take the first step, and invite a group of customers to discuss their experiences with your organization.
A few ground rules:
Invite 3 or 4 customers to participate.
Try to represent all facets of your business.
Invite customers who would have valuable insight (not simply accolades) as to how your products and services are working.
You can choose a facilitator to moderate the process. If you would rather it be a person outside the organization, choose a non-biased expert.
Pose questions to the customers about your products and services – what has worked for them and what has not worked.
Ask for “dream” products or service packages the customers would like to see.
Prepare your staff:
Let them know you are serious about becoming customer focused.
Explain that negative feedback is every bit as valuable as positive feedback.
Vow to use the information fairly.
There will be a lot of discussion (and possibly debate) after the panel. But, in the end this can be a very productive experience. Remember, that the majority of your customers don’t expect your business to be perfect, but they do expect that you will try to make their world a better place to be. I think that is entirely justified.
How does your organization take responsibility for customer experiences? How do you facilitate change?