This Just In – Listen to Your Customers

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

The McKinsey Quarterly (Issue 4, 2007) interviewed quality guru Armand Feigenbaum. He talked about how customer messages don’t get through. Consequently, quality efforts often tackle things that aren’t all that important to the customer. McKinsey asked what organizations should do. Feigenbaum said, “It’s not particularly complicated – and I’m afraid that’s where the problem lies: the message seems too trivial for some people. Ask your customers. Don’t assume you know what they want. Talk to them – personally. How many CEOs still meet their customers in person? Have top managers visited customers in the past quarter? The answer is a key indicator of their quality leadership.” I think this same advice applies inside organizations. How many executives actually talk to employees – personally? Not through employee surveys or town hall meetings, but personally? This would require actually talking and listening to people. What a concept. I know that Feigenbaum isn’t saying anything new to readers of my newsletter. But I thought you might like to hear what he had to say. I was especially taken by the phrase “seems too trivial.”

After writing this piece in my newsletter, Tools for a Change, I came smack dab up against a vendor who just didn’t know its customers. I was attempting to launch a new product. In the final hours before the launch, we found that our shopping cart (the program that allows people to place orders) simply wouldn’t do what we needed it to do. And we weren’t asking a lot of. We wanted it to calculate international shipping rate, and add some text on the ordering page to help people make the best choices.

After hours of frustration, we changed vendors. Never, in the many years that I’ve used this service for simpler orders did I ever hear from anyone inside that company. Now, people who are in the know, tell me that this company is pretty bad. I wonder if they know that!