Robert Phillips,  Lasotell Pty Ltd

Do you know the most spectacular example of an organisation not getting to know its customers and the history-making consequences of that mistake?

Brexit – the case of the people of Great Britain not buying what their Prime Minister was selling and voting to leave the European Union.  The government was so taken aback by the unexpected result, the Prime Minister resigned.  Here is the irony: elected members of parliament are meant to represent the wishes of the people who elected them.  Why didn’t the Prime Minister know that over half of the members of his Government represented people who did not want to be in the EU?

History already tells us the Prime Minister and over half of his colleagues didn’t know what their customers (their constituents) wanted.  Big, big mistake.  Of course Great Britain will survive the mistake but at what cost to the country, its services, and its people?

But the British Prime Minister and his Members of Parliament are not alone in misunderstanding what their customers (constituents) want.  The leader of the British Opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn, made the same mistake, and he is about to lose his job in a revolt by sitting members of his political party.

Do you work in a company that has a similar stance, attitude, or policy when it comes to understanding your customer’s needs? The question is, if you yourself provide (by your own hands or by managing others) content, a service, or a product your company gives to its customers, whether free or purchased, or a combination of the two, are you passionate about needing to changing that state of affairs?  Why?

Sometimes the biggest problem is that people think they should behave one way in their own lives and a different way “at work”.  For example, how many managers in your organisation hire a consultant to tell them about the motivations and needs of their first line reports?  How many of those managers sit and chat with their first line reports?  Why do they get to know their first reports?  Because they want to know what those people like, dislike, their aspirations, and how best to engage and motivate them.  Why don’t those same people want to have the same conversations with the company’s customers?

Sometimes managers who insist that talking to customers is a specialist task that only a chosen few should do, have all kinds of personal agendas, including being afraid of talking to or dealing with customers themselves.  For the committed and enthusiastic employee, this can create an impasse. It may be the moment when they decide to (unhappily) “just do what I am told to do” and eventually leave.  But there are other ways to get to know your customers if you really want to, and bring about change in your company.

It does not matter whether your customers are in other organisations (“business to business”) or the general public (“consumer” or “retail”) – or other parts of your own organisation.  Take some time to think about your customers – how would you describe them?  Categorise them in your own words.  Which category or group has the most interest or appeal to you?  What do you have in common with that category or group, apart from the direct connection through your line of work?  Who do you know outside your work place who might fit into that same category or group?  A family member, relative, friend, friend of a friend, someone in a club or society you belong to.  Is there an online chat group, such as LinkedIn or other social media group that embraces that category or group?

Try this:  if your customers are in other organisations, type the job title of the person who might be your customer in a LinkedIn search.  Look at the profiles of a few of the people in your category or group and make a list of their interests, clubs, societies, hobbies.

Once you make contact with even one individual in the category or group you are interested in, you begin to increase your knowledge about the likes, dislikes, and needs of “your customers”.  Over time you will start using that information in your own work and in conversations with your colleagues that are based on real customer stories and insights.

Case study:  A former managing director of a large telecommunications company knew his company did not have a good image with the general public.  He decided he needed to know more about his customers, so he began to drop into the company call centre from time to time and sit with some of the operators to listen to real life, real time conversations.  One point came across loud and clear – the company was too slow in even replying to requests for services.  His solution was a smartphone barbeque app.  Everyone in the company’s thousands of employees was expected to download the app to a phone – especially if they had a company supplied phone.  Whenever the employee was at a barbeque (or anywhere else) and someone was whining and complaining about the company’s poor service, the employee was to pull out her phone, ask the person for her contact details and the service she needed and promise she would be contacted within 24 hours.  The managing director set up a response team with six people.  About three months later it had grown close to 100 people.  After about six months, that warmth, competency, and good intentions (Malone & Fiske, 2013) began to pay off – the company gained market share.

If getting to know the customers was essential for the managing director of a company that on its own is worth about 6% of its country’s GDP, it should so for all of us.  We can all bring about change in the organisations we work for/with if we find a way to include our customers in our day to day business conversations.  Challenge the norm with statements, stories and questions about real, live, customers – what they like, dislike, need and want.

About the Author

Robert Phillips, founder of Lasotell Pty Ltd,  Over forty years of technical communication and sales experience in the Australian pharmaceutical, biotechnology, IT services, Defence, IT outsourcing, telecommunication, television, and aged care industries.

The Human Brand
Chris Malone & Susan T Fiske
2013, San Francisco, CA
ISBN: 978-1-118-75827-4 (epub)
ISBN: 978-1-118-61131-9 (hardback)
ISBN: 978-1-118-75815-1 (PDF)