Juniper Networks says that listening to customers wouldn't enable them to come up with the next killer, innovative product
A lecturer told me a market research anecdote; years ago, when TV was still black & white, a company wanted to know what improvements consumers wanted. One customer said that he wanted to be able to store programmes in the TV and watch them when he wanted. The anecdote goes that this suggestion was left to one side... but that consumer was asking for a VCR (or even TV on demand). My lecturer said that this was proof that you'll never get a new product out of market research, but he didn't say that a customer won't ever give you the next big thing. And I agree. However a lot of companies don’t listen to customers at the right moment, and they don't understand what the customer is saying.
No secrets there, I'm sure lots of companies try to attack translating what customer says, but how many look at the other point?
I worked in a call centre a while ago and was in contact with unhappy customers calling to get their PCs repaired. The sort of job that's being outsourced, because there's no added value to that sort of job, right? Not true. When a customer calls, he won't just tell you what needs improving, venting his anger on the product that's broken or crashed. He'll tell you about how he's so frustrated that he can't work out how to use the software shipped with the PC, or just why it's so important that the TV Out and DVD drive work during the kids' holidays. You can say that's linear; it is; but if you take that linear thought and apply it while the competition doesn't then it's better than linear.
And then you can always go a step further, take what the customer says, work with it and come up with the next big thing. You won’t get that with market research, because you're asking the questions. You will only get it when the customer is telling you what he wants without you directing or biasing his answers.
Now how many chances does a company get to listen to customer in that way? I can think of a couple that aren’t used often enough: sales and after sales service.
Too many sellers are too focused on selling their product rather than a solution for the customer's needs. And too many after sales departments are preoccupied with fixing problems. This means that companies keep on marketing what they think the consumer wants, but how often do they market what the consumer really wants? PC customers aren't the only ones that say what they want. Call centres are being closed down due to outsourcing, some CRM conscious companies are worried about the level of service, but none are worried about the possibilities of listening to their customers and finding out what they really want. Why not?
No matter how good the quality of service given by an outsourcer, no one will ever listen to your customers for you and tell you what they want. None will ever help you find out what a customer wants the next big thing to be. Your own employees will if you value them enough and (really) include them in your company. This isn’t about outsourcing; it’s about marketing differently, it’s about not being short-sighted. Not all customers have reasons to complain, but all of them will tell you what they really want if they get the chance. And if you listen to what they say differently to your competitors, you can find the next big thing.
Why don’t more companies try that? What other moments can you think of where you can listen to your customers without influencing what they’ll say?
~~ By Christopher Grove