This story is a version of a post published here.
If you don’t listen to your customers, someone else will.
~ Sam Walton.
Every entrepreneur starts a business with a vision and has an idea or plan in place to get there step by step. There would be instances where you would have seen the spectacular rise of many companies and the shocking fall of others. Of the ones who failed, the product and service would have been something to write home about. But along the way, their focus shifted from being customer-centric to product-centric. The consequence of such a shift resulted in declining sales and lesser profits and the head of the organisation kept grappling for more market share while not realizing that they are, perhaps, misaligned with their customers.
Many organisations, at some point, start believing that they know all it is to know about their customers – their needs, their likes/dislikes, their willingness to pay for the company’s product and so on and so forth. And rightly so because such organisations spend several million dollars doing market research, focus group study, mystery shopping research, and all kinds of statistical analysis to come close to an almost accurate knowledge of what the customer’s needs are. Sometimes, even to the degree that the organisation’s leadership starts refuting customer feedback by using Henry Ford’s famous quote:
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
Now don’t get me wrong, leaders have to get sold to their vision, and they should do whatever it takes to achieve that vision. But getting blind sighted and not listening to your customers won’t help. The voice of your customer ultimately gives direction to your business and helps it navigate through stormy weather. While there is magic in the power of a big dream, there are some very unlikely lessons you would get if you started listening to your customers. Here are a few of them:
Customers’ ideas can provide breakthrough business ideas
It helps you understand your brand better
It helps you understand your competitors better
It helps predict future needs
It will help you innovate your product before launch
As a user of your product, a customer is the best person to give you feedback in improving your product.
For example, a Twitter customer suggested the use of hashtag (#) to the company. So yes, Twitter did not invent the hashtag, but, it surely popularised it. Although it was an innovative idea, it took Twitter almost two whole years to fully incorporate it as part of a tweet. In today’s scenario, no tweet is complete without its use.
Image Source: Twitter Account of Chris Messina
Yes, you read that right! Some customers would actually even offer advice on rebranding your business model.
Beverages & More is a private corporation based out of California with almost 150 stores in U.S.A. Its customers always addressed the company as ‘BevMo’. The business heard its customers and based on the acronym, the entire franchise was rebranded after being in operation for seven years.
Similarly, the UK Supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s changed the name of its very popular ‘Tiger Bread’ to ‘Giraffe Bread’ after it got some advice from a three-and-a-half year old customer!
All customers like to have choices while buying any product. Make sure that you are paying attention when you are being compared to the products and services being offered by others. These critiques or feedback from them would not just help in developing and providing better-quality solutions, but also give you insights about what your customers like in a competing product or service.
Steve Jobs was the master at this; products made by Apple were always a game changer, from the iPod to the iPhone. Apple did not just meet customer’s needs but looked into the future and saw what they might need.
The ability to get so close to your customer so as to hear their thoughts was the single most contributing factor to Apples’ success.
When Richard Branson announced his plans to launch a chain of hotels, the customer feedback was centred more around women guests. So he had additional wardrobe space, healthier options in the restaurants and improved lighting in the hallways based on the inputs received.
This step got him accolades from his guests and most importantly from his own wife when she had stayed there.
Listening attentively to your customers via surveys, customer experience forums and social media could be your strategy to success and better services. Can you think of any more surprising outcomes if you started listening to customers; we would love to hear your views!