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Time to remember the King!

It's time to remember the King – no, not Elvis! YOUR CUSTOMER!!!!

In good times when demand is strong and the rising tide raises all ships, it's too easy to become complacent and think that you know best and simply respond to your own perspective of what your customers need.

In times of challenge (ok, let's quit the subtleties – when times suck!) it's critical that you give the customer (or prospect) the respect and consideration they deserve.

Sounds obvious?

You would think so but I see so many people and companies with little clue about the real needs of their customers or how their product/service relates to the customer needs.

Some personal and anonymous examples to illustrate the point from my last couple of weeks "vendor management"…

  • The specialty photographic magazine who I called to verify my subscription… sorry, unless you have specific date and method of payment, we can't help you.

    Apparently never heard of a subscriber database…

    Frustrating? You bet!
  • The PG&E truck that showed up unexpectedly to "repair a gas leak" which we hadn't reported. When asked for identification and a work order, the field tech responded – "isn't the fact I'm in a PG&E truck enough for you?"

    No, it could have been stolen and YOU showed up without prior notice – don't expect me to roll over like man's best friend!
  • The folks at Expanded Spectrum Solutions who went out of their way to verify a $12 order for some quartz crystals?

    Impressive!
  • The tech support folks at Synergy Systems in San Diego who helped me get a GPS unit back on the air FIFTEEN YEARS after I purchased it from them?

    Perfect score on the SAT and the Gold Medal. Think I will do more business with them? You bet – already did!

Ok, criticize in private, praise in public. The last two deserve the public recognition – they were selfless and helpful without question. It illustrates the point way better than the negative cases…

In the early days at Cisco we were maniacally focused on the needs of the customer – a culture driven top down by John Morgridge and John Chambers. Some research into customer behavior that I read back then was very telling – give a customer a great experience and they will tell 2 to 3 other people – give them a bad experience and they will tell 20 to 30 other people!

In other words, good news travels slowly, bad news travels very fast!

During my Cisco experience, we moved mountains to make a customer whole or respond to their needs:

  • Need a customer visit to close a sale or combat a competitor? No problem!
  • Send an engineer into the field to debug and fix a problem? No problem!
  • Customer has unique needs that we need to address? No problem!

It paid back a thousand fold.

In the current financial mess, it's critical to spend even more time with your customers regardless of whether they spend money or not. For sure, you need to prioritize and focus on where you can close revenue but your customers have the best perspective on what you need to do.

So, some suggestions:

  1. Go meet your customers on their turf – drink their coffee and understand their problems. Do this when you aren't trying to close new business – either a future prospect of keeping an existing customer aware that they matter to you regardless of the next purchase order.
  2. Hold customer focus groups or webinars. Get your customers talking about their problems, what your product does well and what it needs to do.
  3. Expose as many people in your company to the customer as you can (and can afford). Engineers, managers, marketing, finance – the works.
  4. Give all your senior managers at least one customer to "own the relationship" in conjunction with the sales team. Think executive sponsor. Get to know your customer like you know your best friend.

Time to cozy up to your customers – you won't regret it!

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STU PHILLIPS
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA

Intense Brit, lived in Silicon Valley since 1984. Avid pilot, like digital photography, ham radio and a bunch of other stuff. Official Geek.

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