Saturday, June 30, 2007

Don't Listen to Your Customers!

I love an article in the July 2007 issue of Inc. magazine by David Freedman called "Ask, and You Shall be Misled." The premise of the article is that customers can tell you a lot but sometimes they don't know what they're talking about.

Part of jazzing up the sales of your business is listening to customers and responding to their needs. So it's not easy to take customer feedback with a grain of salt. But consider that customer feedback may not always be representative of the population who buys from you. For example, if Microsoft listened to all of the "cranky message posters who dominate online chatter, it might have killed Windows."

The article points out that one danger of focusing on what customers ARE asking for is that you might lose sight of coming up with brilliant ideas that customers AREN'T asking for. Apple's customers weren't asking for a hand-held music player when Apple came out with the iPod.

So (and this is a tad tongue-in-cheek)... here are 4 tips for when NOT to listen to your customers:
  1. The "squeaky wheel" isn't representative of your customer base.
    Herb Kelleher, retired CEO of Southwest Airlines, was known for sending a letter back to a complaining customer stating, "Good luck in finding a new airline carrier." If a complaining customer is just being a pain in the &*!#, then it's okay to lose him. Responding to a squeaky wheel who has no merit takes you away from serving your good customers.

  2. Part of a customer's complaint relates to the natural progression or necessity of your product or service.
    For example, if your run an ice rink and a customer complains about it being too cold in the arena. Duh! This is like when your child complains of having homework - you aren't doing him any favors by excusing him from it.

  3. Behavior doesn't reflect what your customer says.
    I have had the same hair stylist for 10 years and she used to always cut my hair on Saturdays. A few years ago, in response to her personal work/life situation, she cut out all of her weekend appointments and was initially worried she would lose business based on what her clients told her. Guess what? She didn't lose any - and her business is busier than ever - AND she has cut out all evening appointments as well.

  4. The customer is actually (gasp!) wrong.
    In order to jazz up your sales the natural thing to do is try and accommodate your customers needs - and do what they ask you to do. But, sometimes what they want isn't possible and it is so tempting to over promise just a little to get the sale or diffuse a difficult situation. In this situation - go with the honest approach. Talk straight with your customer - they will respect you and your business even more!