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We’ve all been at companies that talk the talk but don’t walk the walk when it comes to the importance of customer feedback and insight. At these companies, client feedback is often stuck in silos (Customer Service, Account Management, etc.) and not really connected with the rest of the organization. There are also companies that think they are above the need for any customer feedback at all. Sometimes, it seems like every CEO or product head who read the Steve Jobs biography decided that they intuitively know what the customers want more than the customers themselves. My opinion is that this only works for a few true visionaries; even Jobs spent a lot more time observing customer behavior and needs than is commonly understood. 

On the other hand, companies that really embrace customer insight have a real advantage. They tend to do a few important things very well. Here are five of my favorites: 

(1)    Outside-In Thinking

This is a key one. It is really easy to think about products and services through a company lens versus the perspective of a customer. This is one advantage that consultants have over company insiders. We aren’t steeped in the company culture and ethos and can more easily view products and services in a fresh light, from the customer perspective. But you don’t need consultants to do this. You just need to consciously see things through your customers’ (and prospective customers’) eyes. 

(2)   Hear It from the Horse’s Mouth

Everyone is really busy. It takes a lot of time to listen in on customer phone calls and prospect pitches or attend focus groups. It is too easy to say that you will do it later, or to let your salespeople serve as voice of the customer in your organization. However, my strong suggestion is that you make the time to listen to customers regularly, particularly if you are in a C-Suite position. Build it into your schedule, an hour a week or every other week. This will do two things. First, you will learn things that you would never know if you weren’t in those conversations. Second, you will help build a culture that values customer insight and causes others to mimic your behavior. 

(3)     Continual Feedback

Some organizations send out customer surveys or Net Promoter Score questionnaires once a year or even every couple of years. These will generate some “nice” insights, but won’t be particularly actionable. The more successful companies I have worked with tend to perform their surveys in ongoing waves so that there is fresh feedback on a weekly or monthly basis. By doing this you can better and more accurately measure the results of specific changes, positive or negative, and even gauge the impact on particular customer segments. 

(4)     Cross-Functional Response Team

Successful customer-focused companies often have a cross-functional team, supported by the executive leadership, that is responsible for taking in customer insight and ensuring that it is analyzed properly and then acted on by the organization. This can involve specific issues with a particular customer as well as broad opportunities and challenges exposed by feedback from of an entire segment of the customer base. 

(5)     Making Customer Success Your Success

This is probably the hardest but one of the best ways to align an organization around customer insight. Money talks, right? While most senior executives are used to having their compensation and bonuses tied to revenue or profit, they are also uncomfortable with having a direct connection to customer satisfaction. But there are countless studies, like this seminal piece from the Harvard Business Review,  that show the correlation between high customer satisfaction and those very revenue and profit numbers. There are a number of ways to do it but I think that executive teams need to be directly tied to some measure of customer satisfaction or willingness to recommend.

These are five of my favorite ways to make an organization truly customer-centric. Let me know what I missed!

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