What happened to the customer?

by C. Villefrance Moeller, TalesOfLeading

I must admit I failed to meet my customers needs! I had been appointed to present an proposal for a company. They had ask me to show them how they could improve their Lean program. They wanted to give it a restart as it had not yet had a breakthrough. A lot of resources had been spend on training managers but no real changes had been made on the shop floor.

Searching for information

I was happy to get the opportunity to present a proposal. I had prepared myself and searched the Internet for information about their products and customers trying to get a picture of what kind of challenges they could be facing. Did the customers want more customization? I found that the company was promoting itself as excellent in developing the product that would improve the customers products and productivity. I then asked myself: What that lead to smaller batch sizes? In what way would that influence what process to improve? How could they work on this and what capabilities did the management have for working with these challenges?

I couldn’t answer those questions, but I thought they would be important to find answers for together with the management team. So that was the basis for my presentation. And I failed – at least in their eyes. Eager as I was to show the best of knowledge and experience, I forgot to investigate what they really needed. Retrospect, they needed to be reassured about their own knowledge and wanted me to recognise their methods and achievements. They did not expect me to question it as I did. That was my mistake.

Big ears and vigilant eyes

Understanding customers is understanding human beings and listening to what they don’t say as well as what they do say. That is why anthropological methods can be used to listen with big ears and observing with vigilant eyes to what the customer is saying and doing especially when using the product or service you are offering. Each time I use these anthropological methods, I’m astonished of what I see and what people are willing to tell me.

Unfortunately, not everybody’s work is in direct contact with the customer. Direct feedback from the customer is always interesting if you are ready to listen to them. I appreciate receptionist asking me: “How was your stay?” When I check out of a hotel, though I sometimes doubt my feedback will be taken further. I ask myself if they have a process for picking up valuable information for improving their service.

Questions for you

  • Do you have a process for picking up information about customer experience?
  • What do you need to know about the customer?
  • Why is it important when you are not in direct contact with the customer?
  • What facts can you find to support your data?

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