Today I want to talk about one of the most important topics in business, but also in everything else. I often relate things to dating, but literally, if you’re going to meet somebody, in a sense, you can consider the woman or male you’re talking to like a customer. You’re trying to sell them on the fact… I know it sounds funny, but you’re basically trying to make sure that they think well of you. It’s the same thing with customers. We hear about the voice of the customer, listening to customers – sort of.
Let me explain. Listening absolutely gives you info. You want that information to define what you need to do to improve your product, to improve your service, to make your choice of products. You’ve heard also, though, that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. That means the person shouting the loudest is going to get attention paid to them. Is that the person you should be listening to? Who you’re listening to and who is speaking up. In other words, listen intelligently. I know that somebody is going to get ticked off at that, because that implies that some people don’t listen intelligently. Let’s say listen with an educated perspective. I don’t want people to feel badly if they don’t know good research methodology, but you really want to make sure that you’re following good form, good research methodology, and you’re carefully studying the customer.
There are important research principles when targeting or trying to understand things, such as customer satisfaction, customer demand, or customer preference. Make sure your survey or the group you’re talking to is well represented by all parts of your market. You want to be talking to the correct people, and the correct distribution of people. You’ve often heard, particularly now in politics, one survey group decides to overweight this survey by one group or another to show so-and-so their favorite person is in the lead. That’s not good research, and that should not be well represented or well respected.
Are you taking a look at the proper proportion, the right number of women, the right number of rural versus urban, etc.? There’s a lot to it. Also, there’s other parts to it. The questions asked also can imply or slant your answer. Do you ever notice that a survey, at the beginning of the survey, they usually ask: “Do you work for any of the following: an advertising agency, market research firm, etc.?” Why do they ask that? You’ll find out if you check you do. Even if you don’t, just check you do just one time just to see what happens. You’re going to be thanked on the next page, and tell you that they’ve already fulfilled their obligation or something else to basically get rid of you. Why? Because you understand and have a perspective on what the research is trying to do, based on the questions, and you know enough to answer them a certain way to bias the results in the way that you would like to see the results come out.
Some of the things that can happen: you may be listening to customer complaints, that can cost you money and you could be fixing the wrong things, you could also be putting your actual product in the wrong light. An example was Mercedes Benz came out in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, someplace around there, with some odd-looking colors for Mercedes; the browns, the yellowish, certainly non-Mercedes looking colors. What do I mean by that? I went there, spoke to the person in charge of all their research and product choices, and asked him if he ever saw the book, Molloy’s book Dress for Success. He said to me: “Customers are really asking for these colors.” I said: “Yes, and I’ve seen them out there. Should you be producing them? You’re listening to people who are not normally your customers, but people who wanted to see that color, but that color represents your product out there. Do you want that to be the picture, driving around in the neighborhood as your car?” They cancelled it very quickly; within a week or two after that.
There’s also things to do with proportional. There was a long time during the ‘90s that Microsoft would have choices for their courses. For their courses and their training centers, they had three-day courses, two-day courses, and five-day courses. For a training center, a five-day course has a classroom that’s fully utilized for the full five days. A three-day course, you have to find people also for some other two-day course in order to have good capacity utilization. Every two years, they seem to be changing and having predominantly three-day courses or predominantly five-day courses at the alternate times. I kept on asking: “What’s going on?” I’m being told: “That’s what the training centers are saying they want to do.”
This gets back to the squeaky wheel. What they were doing was they weren’t looking out and talking to everybody; they were hearing what the complainers were saying. The complainers, who are they? If they’re five-day courses, the people that have five-day courses and like that because they’re able to sell them and they have good capacity utilization, are very happy and don’t say anything. Meanwhile, the people that have trouble selling a five-day course… The difference is a three-day course might be between $1,000-$1,200; a five-day course is closer to $1,800-$2,000. The difference there is significant when you’re trying to possibly sell something.
The people who were having trouble selling five-day courses were complaining that they couldn’t sell them, that people “preferred” three-day courses. Who preferred them? The people who they were trying to sell to. Then they would put in more three-day courses. A year or two later, what was happening? The people who wanted the five-day courses were complaining. They keep on alternating between the two. Why did they alternate? Because they were listening to a very subset of customers: only the customers who were complaining.
The real point, here, is: Yes, it’s important to listen to your customers, but make sure it’s a representative sample of customers, particularly if you’re talking in these two cases of possibly non-customers or people who were not doing maybe as well as they should, or people who weren’t typically what you would want to sell to and have representing your products. You are really listening to people who are outside your target audience.
Keep in mind those factors, target your customers, but first define who your customers are supposed to be, and make sure you’re going and talking to them. If your customers are to be men 35 to 44, just generally talking to men or putting something up in Facebook and getting anybody, you may get all your answers from the people who are 19-29; not a good sample.
Take care. Good luck. Yes, listen to your customer, but make sure it is your customer; not just a generic friend.