We have long advocated seeking help with innovation on new products, processes, business models, and relationship issues from your customers. They know what works and what is broken; they know what the competitors offer that is better and worse than what you provide; they know what problems they still have to solve; and they know how they want to get things done and how they want to do business with you. You probably have some ideas on all this, but you are looking at everything from the inside out, and, therefore, are stuck with a limited, self-serving, perspective.
More and more companies are investing in customer-engagement projects to gain the outside-in perspective by launching Customer Advisory Boards, Customer Co-Design Sessions, and including CX and UX methods during product development. Or should we say, companies are re-investing in many of these activities. So many organizations tried to engage customers as advisors in the past but failed to truly leverage that engagement.
In last week’s article, Patty Seybold and I identify the five major internal organizational showstoppers that stand between your customer projects and success:
1. We don’t get the resources we need in time.
2. We can't get quick & easy access to the right customers.
3. We don't have buy in from key colleagues nor proactive support from key executives.
4. We can’t take action on customer-critical issues in a timely fashion.
5. We don’t have measurable/tangible business results.
I find the most frustrating of these to be number 4: not taking action.
Too often, after what seems like a successful engagement, nothing happens. The customers, who willingly and enthusiastically gave their time and brainpower to trying to find win/win ideas for your organization, never hear from you again—at least not in the context of the project. They don’t know if you heard what they said; they don’t know if you’ve done anything about it; they don’t know if you even care. And that’s a really bad thing. It is easy to alienate even your best customers by wasting their time and efforts.
It never really comes down to nobody caring. It’s a matter of focus and priorities. Everyone is so busy and cash strapped that they have a hard time finding the energy and resources to pursue all but the most easily implemented customer improvements. They know that it is important to get back in touch with customers, but, too often, time passes, and they are embarrassed to reach out. And the executives who approved the projects in the first place have moved on to other pressing issues and are hard to get back on board.
But it is vital that you do. Even if months have passed since you worked with your customers—even if it is a year or more—you need to re-engage. Go back to them with apologies for not contacting them sooner, but with evidence that you did, indeed, hear their priorities clearly. Usually, even if you haven’t specifically taken action to work on those customer priorities, others in your company have created and enhanced products, services, and processes that most likely touch on a number of them. Point out that work. Give the customers credit (even if the work was serendipitous). But it is vital to jumpstart the relationships. Especially since you are going to want to go back to them in the future for new engagements and innovations.
What Stands in the Way of Successful Customer-Centric Projects?
The Five “Gotcha’s” that Plague Most Initiatives
By Ronni T. Marshak and Patricia B. Seybold, Patricia Seybold Group, January 5, 2012