What Can the Navy SEALs Teach You About Your Customers?


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In the September issue of [url=http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090901/how-i-did-it-alden-mills-of-perfect-fitness.html] Inc. Magazine [/url], Alden Mills, founder of Perfect Fitness shares a part of his experience with Navy SEAL training:

“They’d say, ‘OK, it’s a four mile run.’ I’d run so hard, I’d throw up at the finish line. Then they’d say, ‘Now it’s a 10-mile run. Keep running.'”

Mills used his training experience as a lesson in perseverance, but it also provides a warning about your customer’s expectations. The fact is, the things you’ve done in the past for your customer might have made them satisfied then but it might not be enough to satisfy them today and tomorrow. From your customer’s perspective, the bar almost always goes up as your relationship matures.

In other words: Meeting your customers’ core requirements may have been enough to get their business, but it may not be enough to keep it.

This might seem like an uphill battle, but there are some companies that actually use this escalation effect to their advantage. By listening and gathering information in three distinct ways, they build sustainable competitive advantage. Here’s how:

First, ask customers how well you conform to their current expectations. This first piece will show any gaps in your current products and services that might be leaving your key customers at risk of defecting to the competition.

Second, ask customers how important different aspects of your offerings are to them. For example, some customers might find innovative new products as the most important area of performance, while others might be largely focused on price. Knowing what your customer segments find important is critical to meeting their current and future needs.

Third – and this is the piece that many organizations miss – ask customers how their perception of your performance has changed over time. For example, ask your customer, “Has our performance improved or declined over the past 12 months?” If you’re declining or staying the same in your customer’s eyes, you’re giving the competition an opportunity to catch up. Your customer might be satisfied, but it takes continuous improvement from the perspective of your customer to maintain a competitive edge.

Using this three-step method to gather customer feedback can lead to a better understanding of what it will take to keep and grow your key customer accounts. Your customer probably isn’t going to ask you to add another six miles to a training run, but they do expect you to continue to improve and earn their business.

Nick Wassenberg, Research Analyst
E.G. Insight

Originally posted at http://www.eginsight.com/news
Follow Nick on Twitter: [url=http://twitter.com/nick_wassenberg/]@nick_wassenberg[/url]

Nick Wassenberg
E.G. Insight helps companies listen to their customers. We work with mostly Fortune 1 B2B companies, like industrial manufacturers, engineering/construction firms, health care and insurance providers, among others. We help our client implement customized methods to capture in-depth feedback from critical business relationships. My role at E.G. Insight is to tell the story that's found in customers' feedback and help our clients take action. So, I'm a customer feedback analyst, ombudsman, and marketing metrics geek.


  1. Hi Nick,

    I like your 3-step recommendation. The significance of each step may be overlooked by many readers.

    By asking how well the performance met customer expectations (below, met, exceeded) a more accurate perspective may be obtained, rather than asking how well something was done on a 1-5 or 1-10 scale — where the mid-point may be ambiguous across respondents, and/or the bottom part of the scale is rarely used even when deserved particularly because of American (and other?) schools’ grading scales of 90%=A, 80%=B, 70%=C, 60%=D, <60%=F.

    While everything on a survey is by definition important (or should be, from the customer's perspective), the main value is obtained by measuring relative importance (e.g. among these 5 elements, how would you divvy up 10 poker chips). The resulting weightings can be instrumental in data analysis, with more richness than an importance rating.

    I managed a customer experience program where we asked customers about momentum — whether they viewed our performance as declining, staying the same, or improving since last year (or quarter, or month). This was another really valuable viewpoint, in addition to the traditional statistical trending.

    Thanks for sharing some great advice.

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See ClearAction.biz, Twitter.com/ClearAction, Facebook.dj/customerexperience.


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