Customers, I Hear You! – By Rube Goldberg


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Putting your Internal Needs First Puts the Customer Last

One of the most popular terms related to customer process I hear today no doubt came out of the mouths of conspiring academics. It’s since been picked up by the many consulting personalities and bloggers I know. What is it? It’s “what kind of information do I have that will let me do something?” Wait a minute, that’s not it. It’s Actionable Insights.

Why is that term so new, or is it? I don’t know. I do know that consultants, thought leaders and academics have this thing about crafting new terms for stuff we’ve been dealing with for thousands of years (or more). I guess if that’s what your passionate about, go for it. I’m just going to use it here because I don’t want to run over my self-imposed word limit. So, now that I’ve got that off my chest, here we go!

Where Are The Actionable Insights?

If you’re paying attention when you visit a client, more often that not, you’re going to run into years of silo building interwoven with a snarl of workflow and process – most of it undocumented because it was conceived in the minds of little empire builders. No offense. Now, I’m not going to talk about re-designing process from the outside-in because I would rather focus, today, on what you are missing because of the tangled mess you’ve created.

An unfortunate reality of many organically grown workflows and business process is that the focus is clearly on the cubicle, and not on the customer. If the customer doesn’t care what department you’re in, and they just want their problem solved, how effective will you be if one arm of your business doesn’t understand what the other arm is doing – or why they’re doing it? Complexity comes from a stubborn, internal approach to design the functions of a business. You know your discipline, everyone else’s is their problem.

When you allow your business to entangle itself in its own mess, how can you possibly hope to have the time to listen to what your customers are telling you through the various means at their disposal. You certainly aren’t asking, and even if you are, where are you putting this information (collectively) and what are you doing with it? Do you even have time to do anything with it?

Don’t we all put off fixing our own business under the false premise that we have to take care of our customers first? Here’s a question – what if your business design is the reason why taking care of your customers is such hard work. Are you blaming your customers? Maybe you need to take a look inside and see what you find.

A Complete Business Redesign Ain’t Gonna Fly

Ok, I got that. All you see is 1) a ton of money flying out the door and 2) a ton of work and 3) a ton of pushback from your employees (and maybe you too). So, what basic steps can get you moving in the right direction? Here are a couple of ideas that will help you figure out what you don’t know – your customer:

  1. Don’t ask your CRM consultant for help – because even though they don’t believe it, they are trained in skills that prolong your problem – the skills of implementing software do not equate to business acumen. So, your real problem never gets solved, but you keep going back to them with new ideas.
  2. Ask a few of your key department heads to explain their job to you, asking them “why” regularly. You’ll be surprised how often they don’t know, point their fingers elsewhere or say that’s the way we’ve always done it. If it doesn’t make sense, just jot it down for now.
  3. Ask yourself what you know about your customers. Ask your departments what they know. I think you’ll get a lot of blank stares, or comments like “John over at ACB supply buys more widgets in January than any other month”. The only thing you’ll learn is what you don’t know. Great 1st step.
  4. Ask yourself “what could I do to help if I understood the frustrations and roadblocks ABC supply was facing in the various jobs they do?”  Can anyone say innovation?
  5. Don’t get too caught up in the social media listening hype. You aren’t ready for that. You can listen by picking up the phone and calling some customers personally and having an open ended conversation.
  6. Ask yourself “if I were my customer, would I enjoy doing business with me?” Of course you’ll answer yes at first, but maybe you want to hire a shopper to give you an objective opinion.
  7. Ask yourself if you know when your customers are disengaging from you. In other words, do you know when the average customer’s behavior (toward you) is changing negatively? If you knew this, have you thought about why that’s happening and what you could do to prevent it?

And make sure that whatever you learn is communicated back to your customer in a way that let’s them know you heard them.

A Few Words From Esteban Kolksy on Listening To Your Customer

I asked my friend (and Effective CRM contributor)  Esteban Kolsky, of ThinkJar, LLC,  to weigh in on the things a business can do to understand if they are listening to their customers and how they can figure that out. Here’s what he has to say….

The only way to know you are not listening to your customers, unfortunately, is to listen to them.  There is no substitute for asking them (or eavesdropping into their social interactions and finding out) what they want and or need. Here is one easy way I tell my clients to use to make sure they are listening to their customers:

  1. Take your customer satisfaction score (everyone has one by now, everyone is doing CSI surveys – if not, you already have your answer, no?)
  2. Take your customer churn score (again, if you don’t know how many people are leaving you for the competition – another sure sign you are not listening to them)
  3. Between the two of them, they must add up to 100%.  Any difference, obviously beyond rounding up or down errors, means you are not listeing.  If the churn number is higher, you are definitely not listening.  If the churn number is lower, you are lucky – and still not listening (but chances are your competitors are doing worse).

Another very simple technique, but return rates are not that high, have “exit interviews” or “win-loss debriefings”.  Why did they leave? Why did we lose? What are we missing?  This is very useful in B2B, and actually yields amazing insights when done well.

As I said before, this is about asking them – if you have been listening (or think you have) put the stuff you think they want in your perceived rank of importance.  Then place them in random order in a single question survey and send it to them, or ask them to complete it (FYI, low response rates are usually signs that you are not listening, and the customers know it – anything below 20% is a huge red flag).  The question will be something like “please rank the following needs / wants / desires / things you would like us to do in order of importance to you”.  Get enough answers across the board, and watch the results.

A good sign of listening, in any conversation, is to acknowledge what you heard.  If you are closing the loop (telling customers what you heard they say, and what you did about it) you are likely to be listening (likely does not mean guaranteed).  Ask yourself when was the last time you told your customers that you heard them and what you are going to do /did about their complaint or request.  Again, this does not indicate not listening – but it is a very good chance that you are not if you don’t do it.

Even simpler, ask yourself – when was the last survey we sent / focus group we did / conversation we had with them and what did they say? If you cannot answer that question – chances are you are not listening.

Evaluate the processes or procedures in place in your organization to listen to your customers: surveys, focus groups, customer advisory board, etc.  not there? You know the answer…

It’s not always about doing things faster. Sometimes it’s about learning what you don’t know. If your customers are important, maybe you’ll start taking a look at how your business operates and why? Is it’s purpose to satisfy your employees, or your customers – or both? Are you getting the information you need to do things your customers want you to do – even if they aren’t coming right out and telling your directly?

You’ve got some tough questions to ask yourself. Well, not that tough. The tough part is not knowing the answers, and the opportunities you are missing. –>

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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