Are your customers your teachers too?

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I started my career as a teacher, teaching economics, business and mathematics, and during my (short) career as a teacher I learned a couple of things:

  1. The teacher learns just as much from the student as the student learns from the teacher. This was no more evident to me than when trying to explain concepts in my classes and I was met with blank looks and silence as my explanation went right over their head. What I learned was that just because I understood it didn’t mean that they did and that different students would understand things in different ways. I learnt more by trying different ways to explain things to different groups and then getting them to explain it back to me in their own words. This is, at the heart, of communication, understanding and learning.
  2. In order to teach something then you need to understand it. This was one of the main reasons that I left teaching as a profession after about two years as I was teaching economics and business with a lot of text book experience but no real life insight. As a result, I went off to work as an economist in a not for profit economic development think tank and for a private sector publishing house as well as working in and with private business for the last several years. I may go back to teaching (I still do some voluntary school work) at some point but right now I’m still learning and enjoying this part of the journey to much to change.

What does this mean for business?

I think there are a couple of important lessons that we can learn about how we operate our businesses and interact with our customers. They are:

  1. Listening to customers about their experience will give us a unique insight about how they engage with our product or service. Here when I say listen, I mean really listen in a very open and non-judgmental way. Their experience is not wrong its just their experience.
  2. Different customers need different things. Tailoring our product or service to their individual needs will get the best results and continuing to do so on an ongoing basis is the bedrock of customer retention and loyalty.
  3. Don’t assume that just because you built and tested it that your perspective and explanation will be one that your customer will understand. Particularly, in technical industries this can be tricky. Getting complete novices or lay-users (or even your kids) to test your product or service will likely provide a greater insight that to get a professional or technical expert to test or use your product or service.

Do you learn from your customers? How do they teach you?

Thanks to crondeau for the image.

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