Don’t listen to your customers


“Why?” is a child’s favourite question. Answers to her persistent “why?” teach her deep lessons about the mysterious world of grown-ups. Yet she never runs around asking “what?” She can already see what “what” is with her own eyes.

In the same way, voice of the customer, customer satisfaction, and big data analytics are all important tools to show what customers do, but they cannot reveal why they do it.

‘Why’ is key.

Understanding the ‘why’ is critical for focussed innovation and improved future performance.  If you ask customers questions and listen from a purely rational angle, or only look at the data, you miss out on the context: three quarters of what they really mean, and all the emotional, social, political and cultural nuances which influence their buying decisions.

It is very important to ask questions and take note of your customers’ answers, but it is also vital to observe the finer points of their communication. You have to do all three – ask, listen and observe – to get a complete picture of their needs.  And the order you do it in is important.  Here’s why. It’s cheaper and quicker if you ask and listen first then observe second. If you ask first, you will define what you’re looking for, and therefore be more able to interpret the observation, cutting down the time and expense that this requires.

There’s a huge difference between what your customers explicitly say, and what they implicitly mean, and good researchers who are able to interpret their observations will uncover the implicit – gaining genuine and complete customer insight.

Now, once you have this built into a hypothesis, you can go and test your new model of asking, listening and observation.  Believe me, this is much quicker and gives much richer insights than either listening or observation alone.

Not only can this provide you with an invaluable base from which to create your value solutions and value propositions, but it can also give you powerful insights for use in sales and marketing.

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About Cindy
Cindy Barnes is a business and psychology consultant. Her background is in product and service innovation, business development and leadership. She is founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Futurecurve who are value solution architects and builders. Futurecurve helps companies navigate from a product ‘push’ focus to a true customer ‘pull’ focus, enabling them to out-perform their peers by delivering genuine value to customers. Customers include global corporations, governmental organisations, start-ups and not-for-profits.

Her career has spanned engineering, heading R&D for part of Panavision, running automotive component factories for Smith Industries and leading marketing and business development for Capgemini.  She has created, developed and sold many leading edge products and solutions.

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