We Are All Customers

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Everyone’s got a story—or several. Every time I find myself in front of a group of managers at a workshop or seminar, invariably people start telling stories of experiences that they or their families have had recently with a company or organization. More often than not, I have to wade into the discussion and try to get us back on topic as the room descends into a game of one-upmanship—”That’s nothing! Wait ’til you hear what my bank (telco, dry cleaner, furniture store) did to me!”

It happened again last week in Istanbul where I was working with a partner company of mine in a seminar-workshop over a couple of days. On several occasions, when I would raise a topic, someone in the audience would want to tell me and the rest of those present about a recent experience. After these experiences were translated into English for my benefit, I remarked that they were very similar to others that I had been told about in Canada, the US, Colombia, Ireland, Portugal, Australia, Hong Kong or wherever.

Two conclusions: First, at the end of the day, we are all customers, and even the most senior executive, CEO or VP has a customer story to tell. Second, customer experiences and what customers seem to want from them are remarkably similar the world over; all we have to do is change the location and the language being used to describe them and they could be happening down the street—”Hold on now; that could be my bank (telco, dry cleaner, furniture store) you’re talking about.”

What continues to mystify me is why there seems to be so little learning. Why is it that managers in companies will be able to regale you with stories of experiences they have had, but seem blinkered to the fact that their own customers may be out there right now telling stories about their companies? We all seem to accept the power of word of mouth, but seem to pay precious little attention to how it may be affecting our business.

Maybe we have to bring these stories closer to home. Maybe we have to embark on a conscious strategy of listening and of encouraging our customers to become storytellers. I can think of a number of ways to go about doing it, but it will have to mean that our senior managers get out of their offices and meet casually with customers to hear their stories and then be committed to doing something about what they hear. Who knows, we might learn that the stories our customers have to tell about us are no different than those we have been telling for years about others. I think, for some, that would be a revelation.

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