Want To Be More Customer-Focused? Stop Being Defensive.

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This reporter has officially arrived on social media: Here before you is the first fully Facebooked interview of my career.

I met David Mangen, principal of Mangen Research Associates, on Facebook through a mutual friend, probably Paul Greenberg. We friended each other, got to know each other, and I found out he has an interesting take on customer-focused companies. I sent him a note suggesting a brief interview for CustomerThink.

He agreed, I messaged the questions for him and he sent back the answers. So there really wasn’t any need to ask about the effectiveness of social media, was there?

DS: David, we’ve heard businesses talk about becoming “customer-focused” for years. How can you tell which ones are walking it and which are just talking — what are the ones who are serious about it doing that the others aren’t?

DM: These days I assume that the company is not customer focused until such time as they can provide some demonstrable evidence that they are.

I look how they respond to customers under conflict-related situations — for example, when there is a dispute regarding the product or service that has been delivered. A company that quickly reverts to “policies” or appeals to fine print to impose a “gotcha clause” onto the customer is providing good evidence that they are not customer focused, while a company that actively looks for a way to at least mollify, or preferably truly satisfy the customer, is demonstrating their focus. Even if the customer is being unreasonable a customer-focused business will search for a friendly solution.

DS: For the businesses who are serious, how could they best use Voice of the Customer strategies?

DM: Trying to create individualized products can be difficult, if only because of the inefficiency that is potentially created. This is where Voice of the Customer models can come into play. If we use some classic trade-off models to research and test the attractiveness or utility of different features that customers value, we can then identify unique segments of respondents to whom different product configurations appeal. In theory, you have an infinite number of product configurations, but you can almost always distill this down to a much smaller set that will cover most, if not all, of the waterfront.

DS: What do businesses want to avoid when trying to become more customer-focused — what have you seen that backfires, or simply doesn’t work?

DM: Good question. If I had to say one thing, it would be that they have to avoid getting defensive. This change from being in control — or believing that you’re in control — to ceding significant control of the relationship to the customer can be quite threatening, and many are tempted to lash out at these “demanding customers” as opposed to looking to their demands as the possible sources of inspiration that they need.

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