“If we build it, they will come” is the famous line from the movie, Field of Dreams. It represents the old-fashioned “Product Out” approach that some organizations still practice today. In contrast, a “Customer In” approach focuses on deeply understanding customers’ current and future needs, and then designing products and services that meet those needs. These are very different mindsets, the former relying heavily on marketing and the latter, on customer engagement.
“Customer In” starts with customer listening or capturing the Voice of the Customer (VOC). Customer-centric organizations gain high returns for their listening efforts including:
- Early detection of problems with products and services.
- Market intelligence including insights on competitors and emerging trends.
- Ideas for increasing sales, increasing customer satisfaction and therefore, improving business results.
There are many possible “customer listening posts” such as:
- Focus Groups
- Customer Advisory Groups
- Touchpoints throughout the sales and service fulfillment process
- Customer visits and observation (Going to the Gemba)
- Social media
There is the potential of a rich data flow from these listening posts, but organizations need processes to capture, synthesize, analyze, share and action insights. In addition to finely honed individual listening skills, organizations need organizing systems to get the value from what is heard.
Perhaps even more critical is that organizations need a “Customer In” mindset, and not only in the customer-facing workforce. All employees need to regard customer listening as a process of discovery. A culture of continuous improvement, not blame or fear, is required for open, meaningful customer dialogue. Customer listening can be a competitive differentiator if it is authentic.