The Customer is NOT Always Right
by Kurt Jensen
Somewhere in the annals
of time, the phrase "the customer is always right" was coined and forever
etched into our service delivery minds. These five words cause
immeasurable efforts in trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, lead
to a 'yes' culture, and result in decisions based on "Group Think,"
defined by at least one online
Organizational Behavior Glossary as "The capacity for group pressure
to damage the mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment of
Not Seeking to be Right
During a recent client meeting, after several minutes of back-and-forth
debate over prioritization and approach to a project, the client looked at
me with a smile and said, "Now I know you are delivering value – I can get
anyone to simply shake their head in agreement." In this discussion, even
while the customer had the final say, the atmosphere of trust, credibility
and open-mindedness dominated and produced mutually agreed upon actionable
decisions. While the client did not openly say it, she was not seeking to
be "right", although it certainly would have been easier to shake a head
in agreement. Instead, a healthy discussion of the various alternatives
led to a project plan everyone was comfortable with.
Managing the Line
Regardless of the customer setting, whether an internal department or an
external client, one distinct line to manage is disagreement under the
guise of delivering value. Do not disagree for the sake of disagreeing,
thinking you are delivering value. Some examples of crossing this line
would be automatically debating direction, using words like "but" or
"should," and the extended analysis of a decision. Simply put, don't do
it. Healthy conversation or even debate is fine; automatic disagreement or
debate is a waste of time.
Questions to Ask Yourself
There are a few essential questions to ask when participating in customer
Is your customer in a problem-solving frame of mind?
Does your customer simply need to be heard?
Is your customer providing direction vs. asking?
Determining the nature of the discussion requires close listening and
Delivering value to customers certainly is essential to maintaining their
loyalty. However, delivering value often requires tactfully conversing
with the customer to determine alternatives to achieving the desired
result and ultimately builds a better and longer lasting relationship.
Challenge your customers to think even harder about themselves and what
they are doing – they'll be glad you did.
Becoming Customer Centric - Involve the Customer
Our series on leveraging the Voice of the Customer as a key element
to becoming customer centric continues with an overview of two approaches
to involving the customer in your action planning. In prior editions, we
provided an overview of approaches for obtaining customer input and
perception. The "next level" of the VoC process is direct customer
"involvement." This step confirms that customer perceptions are being
accurately interpreted by your firm and provides an opportunity to
validate future plans with the customer prior to execution. Two common
approaches to achieving direct customer involvement include establishing
Focus Groups and a Customer Board of Advisors.
Focus Group(s) – This is a qualitative approach in which a group of
participants (approximately 10) of common demographics, attitudes, or
purchase patterns are led through a discussion on a particular topic. This
Obtaining additional insight on what you have
perceived from your firm's customer pulsing activities
Reviewing action-plans that result from customer input
to validate that they will achieve the anticipated impact in the eyes of
Obtaining detailed requirements directly from the
customer on new product/service feature/functions
Discussing the nature of the customers' use, benefits,
drawbacks, suggestions for improvements and most effective use
(short-cuts, workarounds, helpful hints, etc.) of your firm's
you prepare for the focus group, it will be important to consider the
profile (face-of-the-customer) of those you invite. This will be based on
the nature of the topics to be covered. If you are covering items related
to the overall value proposition and what it would take for a customer to
remain a customer for the long-term, you will want to involve
decision-makers. If you will be discussing a specific set of
features/functions with regard to your product/service, then you will want
to invite end-users. For "B2C" firms, you will find that they
(decision-maker and end-user) are often the same person.
While the focus group(s) you establish may involve a series of
discussions, you will, at a minimum, want to hold an initial session (to
actively engage the customer in dialog) and a follow-up session that
closes the loop with regard to the actions you are taking based on their
Customer Board of Advisors – This activity involves facilitation of
periodic meetings with a select number of senior executives from your
firm's customer base. To be clear, this involves engaging customers (to a
great degree) into your firm's "inner-circle." As such, care must be given
in choosing the customers that you invite to this level of involvement.
Attributes to consider when determining the customers to involve in this
Strategic importance to your firm
Level of complexity and/or sophistication in the use
of your firm's products/services. Representation from customers at each
end of the spectrum can be effective.
Diversity of industries represented
addition to covering many of the same topics (although at a higher-level)
as in the focus groups, it will be beneficial to provide this customer
forum with an update on your firm's strategic direction, financial
situation and the market challenges and opportunities that you are facing
and addressing. You may be amazed at the level of interest that this
strategic group of customers has in the success of your firm. That is,
they will actively engage with you, offering approaches that you might
consider in addressing some of your most pressing challenges and
The nature of discussions, feedback received and perspective obtained from
the Customer Board of Advisors will typically be strategic in nature. This
is beneficial to your VoC activities as it helps to balance out aspects of
customer input that may be more tactical in nature.
Finally, keys to success for involving the customer in the forums outlined
Leveraging a trained / objective moderator to ensure
that open/frank communications take place, and that discussions remain
Clearly setting goals, objectives, expectations and
ground-rules for each session.
Establishing confidentiality – This includes
confidentiality between the host and individual customer firms, and
between the individual customer firms.
Cross-functional participation from your firm – This
ensures that multiple facets of your firm hear, first-hand, what the
customer is saying and can hold interactive dialog with the customer for
clarity. Areas of your firm to consider include: Marketing, Product
Management, Engineering/Development, Sales/Account Management,
Professional Services, Training/Education, Service/Support and
closing, involving the customer in your action-planning and continuous
improvement efforts demonstrates to the customer that they, and their
input, are important and ensures that the plans you initiate are in
alignment with customer needs.
In the next edition, we will begin discussing what to do with the
information obtained in the prior steps of the Voice-of-the-Customer
process. If you'd like to review an outline of the complete VoC program
feel free to download the
presentation recently delivered to PDMA's VoC conference.
View previous articles in this series.
+ The Customer is NOT Always Right
+ Becoming Customer Centric
+ In The News
+ Recommended Reading
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Harry Wright Heermans, Ph.D. is one of 5 start-up executives profiled
in the CRM Magazine article
CRM is GO!. The article focuses on the importance of CRM even for
companies just starting out, highlighting 5 start-up companies and their
early implementation of CRM.
For Heermans, implementing CRM in the early stages allowed his company (Providus)
to develop business processes to complement the CRM product, rather than
having to re-engineer processes to fit the tool. On the importance and
value of CRM, Heermans says: "We really have to be driven by what
customers are telling us, and in that regard we need all of the different
channels and touch points feeding back to the folks designing the
This week's recommended reading, from CRM Magazine, complements our
Voice of the Customer series with a discussion of Customer Advisory
Boards. In his article
Listening to Customers Requires More than Ears, Bill Capraro
emphasizes the importance of these customer boards as a way of better
understanding what customers really want, and of involving customers more
in what you do.
VoC Presentation Available
Material from Craig
Bailey's presentation at the 7th Annual Voice of the Customer
Conference in San Francisco is available on the Customer Centricity
here to download the presentation.
About Customer Centricity, Inc.
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