Wednesday, March 19, 2008

request: ask customers what they hate about you UPDATED

IT WAS the oddest experience. We visited two signficant customers yesterday and asked them to tell us (I'm paraphrasing here) what we do that sucks.

That we should put four people on a plane to go ask these questions was an original experience for me. That the customers would go so far as to complete a "scorecard" in advance of our visit, share the responses, and talk about how we can improve was another original experience.

But the big take-away for me - the one that still has me blinking - was how happy they were about it.

At the end of both calls, the sense was "there are areas where you can improve, but we're glad to be working with you."

As hard as it is, being honest with your customers about where you fall short, what you plan to do to not fall short, and setting expectations for how you're going to measure progress, these are all high-value activities.

My other big take-away was just how much customers value communication - about roadmaps, about new ways to use our products, about what they're going to be doing next. Neither customer asked for new features. Both customers asked for better dialog.

All of this is hugely ironic given that this happened the same day that customers were descending on Ning to "show their love". Who knows, maybe we're witnessing the start of something novel - a broad-based recognition of the essential value of treating your customers well. Woooo....scary.

UPDATE - The more your customers can trust you to listen, the more likely they are to talk.  In the two years since this was written I've found this single practice has meant more to me than any other, which is why I've dug it up to share with you again. As my personal guru told me today, "All your answers are out there in the marketplace waiting for you, so go out and get them."

NIHITO, neh?  Wakarimasu sensei.

(photo by Dave Walsh)
(original publication date: 2/16/06)


Roger L. Cauvin said...

Ironically, sometimes the most powerful way to improve relations and inspire confidence is to plead ignorance. Just the fact that you listen to their problems goes a long way towards convincing the customer that your product will solve the problems.

Gopal Shenoy said...

On numerous occasions, I have called customers to ask them for clarifications on the enhancement requests they send in. First of all, they were amazed that some one had ready their enhancement request and then second of all that someone was taking the time to call them to get more information.

On one or two occasions, I have called customers who had send us nastygrams using the enhancement request form. When I told them why I was calling, their first response was that they are really sorry for having send such a nastygram and when I assure them that I was calling only to find out what we can improve, they cannot believe that someone really wants to listen to them.

This is one of the easiest ways you can create great proponents of your company/product.