Parifornia

Original insights in international business and marketing

Are You Really Listening to Your Customers?

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“You have lots of nice rooms but no house.” This is a direct quote from a very important customer I once had.  To understand his meaning I have to take you back in time.  So step aboard and enjoy the short ride.

We were conducting some research on how customers perceived our brand.  A questionnaire/script had been drafted and we individually contacted by phone both existing customers and non-users. The idea was to get some qualitative feedback and testimonials on just how well the organization was perceived in our markets.  Turns out that while most respondents had a generally positive view on our products and technology, they almost universally felt that it was hard or impossible to have a genuine relationship with us.  The times they had tried to communicate or share ideas with the larger organization, there was hardly ever any satisfactory acknowledgement or follow-up.  Although they respected and appreciated the field organizations (sales & service) many felt that Marketing and R&D were particularly inept at responding in a timely manner or of keeping the communication channels open.

That wasn’t what we had hoped to hear.

Additionally, the research was trying to understand how customers also viewed our myriad of products and technologies.  At the time, the company had hundreds of products from across almost a dozen individual business entities/groups.  Many of these had been brought together through acquisitions.  This is what gave rise to the quote in the title.  An esteemed domain expert and customer gave a very simple yet very insightful analogy about our business.  “You have lots or nice rooms but you don’t have a house.”  He said.  What he meant was that our products were individually of good quality and useful but that we had not been able as an organization to articulate how they all fit together.  Essentially, he was saying that we were purveyors of individual products that did not feel as though they were tied together or that they came from a single company.  That hurt.  But he was right.

Lessons learned

  1. Are you listening to what your customers think of you or see you as?  As much as this research shocked many of us, it led to a creative and healthy discussion on how we could improve the perception in the market.  Tip:  Take stock of how people see you and regularly check back to see how well you are doing.  Conduct the research yourself if you can.  Seeing and hearing the feedback is much more powerful than reading it in a report.
  1. Are you actively engaging and following up with your customers?  The research suggested that collected customer information or feedback usually got dumped into a black hole once it came from the field.  Tip:  Make sure you have the right systems, tools, infrastructure and processes in place to quickly act on customer feedback.  No sense expecting high levels of customer engagement when you are simply unable or ineffective at engaging with them in a timely manner.  Identify where the information flow gaps are and create new platforms (e.g. Social media, CRM system) where you can engage in a two-way dialogue.
  1. Are you too busy selling products versus solutions?  Customers are sharper than we often give them credit for.  They know perfectly well when companies are trying to sell them products/technology vs. addressing their needs/issues through holistic solutions.  Bundling disparate products together on a brochure or in a sales rep’s incentive plan/portfolio does not necessarily translate into a customer-believable story.  Tip:  Start thinking and organizing your businesses to more closely match the customer’s environment.  A product-centric approach may make sense internally but it means little to the end user who thinks more in terms of multi-dimensional needs and daily challenges.

Is your organization facing similar issues?  Are you in a business with lots of products (rooms) that don’t necessarily fit well together or create a cohesive story (house)?  Share your experience and thoughts!

photo credit: practicalowl via photopin cc

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2013 by in Marketing and tagged , , , , , , , .

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Andrew Hyncik

Andrew Hyncik

Parifornia is the creation of Andrew Hyncik, an experienced International Marketing executive who's lived and worked for over 20 years in both Europe and North America.

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