I have always believed that going directly to your customers for answers to difficult questions is the only way to quickly get the correct answer.

For me, this makes incredible sense. How come people continuously make assumptions about what their customers’ need, want, care about, and how they want to be treated? It just baffles me.

Let me share three examples with you:

  1. A Customer Service Vice President decided it’s time to start surveying her customers because the Sales team was reporting that the customers were unhappy with the performance of her service team.  Her stated objective was to understand how the customers felt after a service engineer went on-site to perform a repair.  With only that information she signed-up for a Survey Monkey account and wrote a survey asking about the experience.  After a few months, she analyzed all the results she had received, detected some areas with low CSAT scores, and implemented correction action plans.  A few more months of surveying showed a genuine increase in CSAT for the transactions but our beleaguered VP was getting buried in complaints from the Sales team.  She needed help!
  2. The Services Marketing Director of a $500M high tech company is not generating enough service contract sales and profits.  He decides to create a high-end contract full of “benefits” and priced accordingly.  He then had his contract sellers’ focus on trying to sell this new offering.  The result?  Few takers of the new contract and an alarming decline in sales of the old standby.  He needs help!
  3. The HR Benefits Vice President decided to modify the company’s benefits package to give employees more flexibility while saving the company a pile of money.  When the new plan was announced, there was so much employee push-back that the company was forced to pull the new plan, continue with the older one, and scramble like crazy to make up for the loss of cost savings in the new budget year.  He also needs help!

The common theme here is that people made changes that affect other people without understanding what is important to their target customer and, more importantly, how much these customers will value the proposed change.  If I did not have a great deal of faith in human nature, I would say that this behavior smacks of hubris or arrogance.  Instead, I think it smacks of not really understanding that just because we have an arms-length relationship with people does not mean we know how they will react in any particular situation.  In other words, we cannot talk for someone else unless we are in the same situation as they are, with the same pressures, needs, and constraints as they have.  So, the way around these limitations is to ask them.

Going back to the three examples I gave, let’s look at the cause of these ongoing issues:

Example 1 – The Customer Transactional Survey

Most likely, the reason the scores were improving but the customer feedback about the issues remained is because the survey did not address the areas of customer’s concern where they had low satisfaction levels.

Example 2 – The Services Marketing Director

Most likely, the new contract had few takers’ was because the additional features and benefits were not valuable to the customers.  And, because the sellers’ were pushing this expensive offering, the customers decided to not purchase anything.

Example 3 – The HR Benefits Vice President

Because the new plan did not include the same levels of coverage as the employees currently enjoy, they were instantly dissatisfied.  And if their payroll deduction also increased then the stage was set for a mutiny.

And the solution is…ask the people.  After all, they didn’t name it voice of the customer for nothing!

If your targets know what they want at least better than you, why not ask?  The feedback you receive will not only help you make better decisions but will also strengthen the relationship between the two groups of people.  I know, because that is what I do in my business.