Thanks to technology and automation, more corporations are losing the “voice of the customer” rather than invest in human ears to listen to those who make or break our businesses. How can we be smarter about hearing what our customers have to say, and then acting on those complaints, suggestions and nuggets of insights? My friend Robert Tucker over at The Innovation Resource recently penned Six Ways Smart Firms Listen To Their Customers, and I thought I’d share just a snippet here:
“…There’s no question that the Digital Age is giving us powerful new listening tools. But data mining alone cannot help us intuit the customer, develop intimacy with the customer, or discover their latent needs, wants and desires. The most Big Data can give us are lagging indicators: of service levels, of repurchase rates, etc. What Big Data does a poor job of is signposting leading indicators. Without face to face listening, data fails to give us the unique insights that can lead to breakthroughs.
Below are six ways leading firms listen to their customers:
- Smart firms know that good listening starts at the top. All the great CEOs are or were customer-focused listeners first and foremost. Sam Walton, who flew his own plane to attend store openings and frequently showed up at stores unannounced. A.G. Lafley’s “consumer is boss” motto was at the heart of Procter & Gamble’s wildly successful innovation initiative. Cisco’s John Chambers made frequent sales calls and reportedly got a “heads up” on startups that Cisco needed to buy. And Elon Musk constantly interacts with Tesla owners, and answers their questions. Even the late Steve Jobs, who never believed in marketing research and focus groups, focused intensely on creating “insanely great products” that people just couldn’t do without.2. Smart firms listen to anticipate emerging needs. GE CEO Jeff Immelt spends four days a month in the field, interacting with buyers. He hosts town hall meetings with several hundred customers at a time to listen to their thoughts on what the company can do better to meet their present needs. He also introduced a new way of forecasting their unmet and future needs. As I explore in Driving Growth Through Innovation, GE also convenes “Dreaming Sessions” with key customers in the company’s various business units, from healthcare to turbines to jet engines. As Immelt explained: These sessions are where “we are trying to think about where our business and their business will be in five or ten years.” Favorite question: “If you had $400 million to spend on research and development at GE, how would you prioritize it?”
3. Smart firms involve customers early and often. To maintain its market positioning as the “ultimate driving machine,” BMW must constantly integrate new technologies and design features that are a step ahead of the competition. To accomplish this, BMW created what it calls a Virtual Innovation Agency (VIA) to listen to customers directly. Car buffs worldwide can access the VIA Web site and join online discussions to share their ideas with other enthusiasts around the world, and with the BMW Group listeners. The VIA submission process allows anyone with Internet access to submit ideas, and if the idea has potential, it’s quickly routed to the appropriate working group at BMW for follow-up. Within the first week after VIA was launched, 4,000 ideas had been received.