When to listen to your customers and when not to?

Customer focus has become a buzzword these days. It’s been talked about a lot in business circles and beyond and I wonder how we got there without showing customer focus? Is it achievement, or claim, or loneliness? Few companies known for being very customer oriented like Paytm, Royal Enfield, IndiGo, D-Mart, and iD Fresh Foods, come to mind here.

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But if you examine the success of these companies, you will see a paradox. While customers love their products and services, companies don’t start with the customer when it comes to designing those authentic offerings. So, to say, it all ends with a happy or surprised customer, but it doesn’t start with them. Which brings us to the question of when to listen to the customer and when not?

Listening carefully to customers is often self-deprecating, if not self-defeating. You need to know which customer to listen to, especially when you hear conflicting offers. Get a better understanding of the situation.

One of the most important aspects of listening to the customer is knowing exactly what the customer wants. The so-called ‘voice of the customer’ is only as good as the customer’s understanding of what they really want and can do, and is limited by the words at hand. Most of the customers do not have a way to express the request or need, because they do not fully understand what is expected.

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Imagine how upset you are in front of the doctor when he wants to know you right problems. The best thing for you is the points and that in your private message. The best doctors are there to listen to you and help you understand your problems before trying to fix them. Think about how difficult it is for you to express what you are sick of or what you need, and how much you talk about the client’s real pain. There is a big gap between intent and content.

This is where Clayton Christensen of Harvard talks about in his book, The Innovators Dilemma. The designer’s problem is to listen to the existing customer and stay committed to improvements and innovations, to take faith and adjust to different customer groups.

Disruptive activities are often not palatable in the current environment, to begin with, and there is risk. There is a trade-off between the efficiency of the existing market to create new markets, of course, and the limited budget and attention of the manager.

Let’s get back to our understanding of the question you have—when to listen to your customers and when not to. To better understand this question let’s look at the figure below.

Consumers and innovation

Marketing and innovation (source: author)

There are two axes: The Technical barrier and the Business Barrier. Low levels of technological resistance indicate stabilizing technological patterns while high levels indicate disruptive technologies. Think of increased storage capacity, on hard drives or hard drives, at the low end of the axis, while at the other end is cloud computing, digital storage or

Low levels of business logic resistance are associated with little separation from the way business is conducted and profits are obtained, while high levels indicate significant separation. For example, selling Maruti Suzuki cars through a dealer network has a low level of business logic constraint, while mass-marketing of cars operated by Maruti Suzuki is at the other end.

Most importantly, you listen to your customer carefully when dealing with current business models and keeping up with (read ‘better’) technology. In these situations, you and your customers know what to expect, and these inputs are critical to driving performance improvements.

If you present a UPI application to your customers and ask what else is possible, they can suggest a number of improvements. They have a basis to work and think in a known subject. So, it’s safe for everyone involved.

However, if you are dealing with a very different or unusual technology or a very different business model, then you can ignore the current consumer world and listen to the technology opportunities.

For example, in moving from email to movie streaming, Netflix did not follow the needs of previous customers. Because consumers have limited their own experience and, therefore, their opinions are limited. These innovative technology and business models need to start from the drawing board and go out into the market.

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Consider how Zerodha disrupted the retail investment market by not starting with market expectations, but by creating an entirely new value proposition that emerged from a bold business model. When you pitch it to customers, they can give you great ideas on how to improve, but you have to start with a leap of faith.

Now you know what Henry Ford said when he famously quipped, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said it faster.” It wasn’t born out of arrogance or a lack of customer focus, but out of an innate appreciation of technology opportunities and a lack of a business model. Almost a century later, Steve Jobs repeated the idea, saying, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Since you don’t have to deal with new business models or technology very often, it pays to listen to your customers. But every now and then, you have to turn a deaf ear to what’s going on outside and listen to your inner voice, because that’s where the real wisdom lies.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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