When was the last time you spoke to a customer? Sounds like a silly question, but really, what’s your answer?
Has it been too long?
Are you one of the rare executives who does a great job of staying connected with their buyers? If you are, kudos to you, you’re ahead of the game. (Read on for advice on how to make the most of that time.)
If you can’t remember the last time you met with a customer, or even if your answer to my questions was “just a few months ago,” you’re missing a valuable opportunity to gain precious insight about your business.
Talking to customers regularly, personally, is one of the best ways to feel the pulse of your organization and how it’s doing.
Isolation at the Top
Leading a company comes with all kinds of pressures. Your time is consumed with things like financing, board meetings, product decisions, operational considerations, legal issues…the list is endless. Entrepreneurs blessed with rapidly growing businesses often find themselves challenged to keep up with it all.
Even seasoned executives can fall into the trap of focusing on the specific issues and concerns that seem most urgent, while delegating customer contact to someone else. Over time, their world gets smaller. They become more isolated and insulated from buyers.
The further executives get from customers, the more abstract their decision-making becomes. Instinct and intuition are replaced by survey data and analyst reports that often dehumanize buyers, chunking them into segments and turning them into personas instead of people.
Make the Time
Do you really know what your buyers want, or are you relying on the advice of a deputy, a trusted staff member or even a third-party firm? When it comes to understanding your market, there’s simply no substitute for being there.
Make the time to go out and meet your customers on their own turf. Whether you visit a store, tag along on a sales call or gather a customer advisory board, you simply can’t lead effectively over the long-term if you don’t cultivate the habit of customer connection.
Lead by Example
If you want your organization to be customer-focused, you have to be customer focused.
A leader who doesn’t prioritize customer needs and concerns – both proactively and responsively – is hard pressed to cultivate a culture that places value on buyers.
Employees take their cues on attitudes from their leaders. They’re watching, and they emulate the behavior they observe.
How can a busy leader set the right example? The answer depends on a number of factors, from the industry you serve to your own personality. It’s important to lead authentically, so choose what works best for you.
How to Meet Your Customers
Here are a five ways to show your commitment to meeting your customer, while gathering information vital to the success of your business:
- Use travel wisely. Incorporate occasional customer interaction with your existing travel schedule. If you’re going to meet an investor or partner, stop to talk with buyers in the area. Seeing trouble or opportunity in a certain location? Get there and check it out.
- Read letters and emails. Of course, you can’t read or respond to every bit of correspondence, but you can scan a handful of letters and emails now and then. Make a habit to see what your buyers want you to know.
- Listen to calls. Are your support calls recorded? Take a listen and see what you learn, it could be eye-opening. If you can’t access recordings, take an hour to listen live, either remotely or in your call center.
- Tap into Social. Simply reading social media posts can unveil incredible insights. You’ll often discover what buyers like, problems they’re having, wished-for features and how they use products in innovative ways.
- Observe. Go incognito and observe buyers in action. If you’re not a household name, you can probably hang out in one of your locations without being noticed, listening for unfiltered opinions. This works in stores, at trade shows and other venues.
Naturally, you’ve got a business to run so you won’t do these things every day. Even so, adopting just a few as part of your routine can offer uncommon insights. When you meet your customers, you’ll gather immediate flashes of inspiration and notice trends developing over time.
As you do, incorporate what you learn into your operations and you’ll cultivate not only a customer-focused culture, but also a competitive advantage.