Who Sized Your Customer Hat?


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There is no one on the planet smarter than an eager beaver just back from a best practices conference. When my dad encountered such a person he would quietly tell my mother, “If I ever get that smart, I want you to slap me silly!” He was not one to suffer fools in the face of ill-founded arrogance from a smart-aleck.

The best practices upstart often prefaces his or her plea for a pet “oughta” or “shoulda” with the words, “wearing the customer hat.” In full, it sounds like, “At Acme Enterprises they put a Filtabrator 22 in their IVR circuitry yielding a 22.4% decrease in FCR that created a 31.7% increase in customer sat. Wearing the customer hat, this will quickly put us on the bleeding edge and enhance our core competency.”

The “customer hat” can be a smug decoy for claiming, “We know what’s best for our customers.” It was likely the line of logic that said, “We just know our customers will love New Coke, Iphones without Google maps, Edsels, DeLoreans, Betamax, etc., ad nauseam!” It can be used to sell an unknowing leadership audience that “we are smarter than our customers.”

It is always valuable to wear the customer hat! Done correctly it can help everyone in an organization remember that, in the words of Peter Drucker, “The purpose of an organization is to create and retain a customer.” Customer hats remind leaders to consider the impact of their decisions on customers. Some organizations actually use a cap or hat with the word “customer” embroidered on it. Worn by a meeting member charged with being the advocate for the customer, it can be a wake-up phrase to short-circuit go-to-market arrogance.

But without valid, timely customer intelligence, a customer hat alone can cause leaders to assume—a word that dissects into three words that spell a dire outcome. Hats need to be sized with insight into what customers need, want, and expect. Even visionary pacesetters that provide offerings (like fax machines or Ipods) that customers did not know they wanted, do so with deep understanding of customer aspirations. If the customer hat is the only covering you don to project customer expectations, you may end up dealing with the naked truth about how customers adversely react to your ill-informed decisions!

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group (chipbell.com) and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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