Everyone Must Talk to Customers

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The disappearing executive

I once had a client in California hire me to give a workshop on becoming more customer-centric. The VP of ‘something’ introduced me to the cohort (this was back in the in-person training days), stressed the importance of knowing their customer, how the workshop was going to teach them to be better at it and how valuable this new font of insight is to the organization. He then exited the room, never to be heard or seen again during my 2-day training. 

The Chatty Engineer

A few years later I was running a consulting practice in New York City and was lucky enough to be able to rehire an engineer I respected from my previous job. We assigned him to a project that built marketing automation systems for micro and small businesses with minimal digital presence. He lived in Jersey City and on his daily commute into Manhattan he passed dozens of bakeries, delis, nail salons and laundromats – his target audience. On a regular basis this engineer would stop in on his way in to work and just ask a few simple questions of the owners. “How do you advertise?” “Do you do it online?” “What do you find hard about it?” etc. He shared each conversation with his team at the office and helped them build a product that solved a real need for real business owners. 

Everyone must talk to customers

Both of these stories have the same moral.

Everyone must talk to customers. In the disappearing executive’s case, had he shown dedication to becoming a more customer-centric leader, attended the training and shared how he’d put it to use, he would have inspired his teams to do the same. In the chatty engineer’s case, he proactively took on the responsibility of getting to know his customer despite not typically asked to speak with customers. Instead of worrying about formalities he took an opportunistic approach. That initiative gave him and his team a broader understanding of the problem they were trying to solve and made them more successful as a result. 

Whether you’re a leader, engineer or someone else who isn’t usually associated with “getting to know the customer” consider the two stories I shared here. How much closer could you get your teams to the customer if you took the initiative to do so yourself?


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