Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Difference Between "Hearing" and "Listening" to our Customers

Many companies claim to listen to their customers, when what they really do is just to hear them. The difference might be subtle, but important. What's the difference?

Let's see the "focus group" approach. We meet with the customers, they say what they want, and we build exactly what they request. It looks like the right way, right? What could be better than giving the customers exactly what they request!

But, where's the flaw on this? The flaw is, most of the times, customers don't know what they need. It's not that they are dumb. Most of the times, customer are way smarter than we are. Now, what they know better than anybody is, what their problems are.

Those to just hear the customer don't care about the problem. They limit themselves to build what the customer asks for.

Those to listen to the customer put special care on what the problem is. They inquiry about it. They analyze it. They try to understand it beyond the scope of the process. They make it personal. The customer's request becomes a mere suggestion. And based on that the next step should be to deliver BEYOND the customer's expectations.

Beyond customer's expectations means to see the problems behind the problems, solving as many as we can with a simple, comprehensive solution, where the customer will no only see his problem solved, but his life improved.

And that's what makes the difference between top of the line and half-fast, between excellence and mediocrity, between being a leader and a follower. Real innovation comes from listening to our customers, from having empathy with them, from really understanding their issues, to see their problems and frustrations in ourselves. And in coming our with the best ways we would like it to be for ourselves.

Listening to our customers is becoming a lost trade, especially in the technology business. As an exercise, think about some of the companies you work with. Which ones really listen to you? Which ones limit themselves to hear you?

When a customer is listened to, a loyalty relationship is developed. The customer becomes a friend, someone who can ask us "what do you think about this? Is this good or bad for me?", pretty much as we do in a personal basis. If you limit yourself to hear your customer, you become a butler, a clerk, someone who just follows orders, despite of those being good or bad for the customer.

And that makes a big difference: A butler or a clerk can be replaced. A friend is forever.

So, challenge yourselves. Do you listen to your customers? The day you start doing it, your business will change forever.

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