Customer focus, thinking outside-in, walking in the customer’s shoes are all slogans used to encourage people and companies to adopt more customer focused strategies and operations. While this is all well and good, it got me thinking about what it really takes to be customer focused and one word came to mind
That may sound strange, but if you think about it, being customer focused requires paying attention to external signals, demands and needs. It requires you to be willing to go against your company, co-workers and popular culture when those signals contract company culture or practice.
Listening to the customer, or worse the prospect, carries the implication that your peers and their opinions do not matter as much as the customers. It implies that you are tuning out your peers. Not quite ‘talk to the hand’ tuning out, but pretty close when the business just does not understand or even want to listen to customers and the market.
Corporate culture, group behavior and the desire not to rock the boat are powerful forces to keep quiet and keep your head down. After all customers are fickle, they come and go while you have to live with your co-workers for the foreseeable future.
Consider most marketing and product development strategies and techniques that supposedly ‘listen to the customer.’ Many are based on asking focus group questions that are far from free of bias or innuendo. Marketing proudly reports back that ‘our market hypothesis were confirmed’ and takes that as a sign of validation of their ideas.
Yeah right, if all a focus group does is confirm the product design then at best they asked the wrong questions and at worst they knowingly asked questions and asked them in ways that lead the witness. Where is the courage in that?
If customers do not hate at least one of your ideas, then you are not asking them the right questions and you are not thinking hard enough or with enough courage.
This ‘go along to get along’ culture and the implied ‘go outside the lines and we will get you’ exist in every organization. The company knows better than the customer, customers ask for too much, they do not know what they want — after all who asked for the Sony Walkman? These arguments are rearguard actions, a counter revolution against people who have the sense and sensibility to really listen to the market. Going outside of that and into the market takes courage.
The funny thing is that when you listen to customers, really sit back and actively put them at the front of your mind and the focus of your concern you find that they really do not ask for too much:
“Know who I am, whenever you interact with me anywhere, anytime.”
“Help me solve my problems, work with me rather than requiring me to work against myself to work with you”
“Price your products in services in ways that are consistent with how my company makes money.”
These things are not hard to do. They are not impossible. They do not just ask for more, more, more — rather customers often ask for things to be better. But they do require the company, your peers to place the customer ahead of themselves and their goals.
So yes, in my opinion, being customer focused requires courage and bringing back the lessons learned in the market to change your company requires even more courage.
That is what makes true innovators. People who are willing to be wrong a treasure in their companies. Unfortunately that treasure is often buried by bureaucracy, corporate paternalism and peer pressure.
So hats off to those who have the courage to think from the outside in, to advocate for the needs of the people with the money that pays everyone’s salary and bonus, to be willing to be wrong and the customer to be right.
That is the word that comes to mind when you think about being customer focused.