How connected to your customers are you?
I have worked in companies where I did not even know who the customers of the products we made were, other than to know that they were the people that bought our products. As my career progressed however and I had the chance to work in organizations where all employees got to interact with the external customers to some degree, I began to realize the power that comes from having a stronger customer connection.
I also learned that as the amount of contact increases between each employee and each customer group, the level of customer service increases. I saw a direct correlation between the percent of time employees spent with customers and the level of customer service. More time equaled higher service because we could (1) attach a name and face to the customer label and (2) by their reactions we could gain a greater understanding of what their likes and dislikes were.
High performance organizations spend lots of time with their customers. They also install listening posts which increase the percent of time that EACH EMPLOYEE spends with different customer groups. For example, key face-to-face listening posts that are used by most high performing companies include focus groups, planning involvement, product and service development sessions, regular visits to both the customer’s location and in-house, and point of purchase relationship building.
What do your customers really want?
How does your company decide what products and services its customers really want? Do you use focus groups and surveys? Do you spend time in the field watching customers either buying your product or making purchase decisions that involve it? There are a variety of ways to determine customer requirements, but all too few companies use more than simply their own opinions.
That’s right – many decisions about what the customer wants are made in meeting rooms, simply by reviewing written summaries of customer meetings or discussing what we think the customer wants.
Great companies however use a host of fact-based approaches to create a list of possible customer wants and to prioritize those wants before converting them into product and service features. They recognize that different customer segments expect different things from the products and services they purchase, and they place a high degree of value on using fact-based approaches to determine how these requirements differ.
The example tables and lists provided on this web page are intended to give you several examples of how you might want to enhance your current approaches for defining customer requirements. One key improvement you can make is to simply increase the number of times you touch your customers and allow them to touch you back over a given period of time. By increasing the number of customer touches, you are provided with more opportunities to observe them, listen to them, and measure their levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
You can also employ the use of several mechanisms for staying in touch with the customer. In doing, you can obtain data from a variety of sources, compare the results of such research, and look for commonalities across different data collection mediums. The patterns that appear most often reflect the requirements that your customers consider to be the most important. If you do choose to use a variety of approaches, make sure that you pull them all together into a listening post summary table. This practice will help you make sure that you are investing your customer research time and money in the right places.