Are company executives afraid of their customers?

fear_man1.jpg  According to the 2006 Customer Experience Management Global Survey by Strativity Group 65.8% of company executives don’t meet frequently with customers. The good news is that this year’s number is down a whopping 1% from last year’s.  Which makes one wonder, why do so few executives talk to customers on a regular basis???

Is it due to lack of time, of resources, or tools? I doubt it. It’s probably because most executives don’t know what it costs them NOT to talk to customers. How many know the cost of a customer complaint, or the cost of a lost customer?  As an executive, do you want to be the first or last person to know of problems?

Maybe it’s because there is no process around customer conversations.  Where do you start? Since all customers are not equal, try to get diverse perspectives with these three groups:

  1. Recent, first time buyers
  2. Long-term loyal customers
  3. Lost customers

To get the conversation flowing in the right direction, what one question would you ask each of these type of customers?

Here’s my list for now:

  1. Recent, first time buyers: What was it that convinced you to use our product/service?
  2. Long-term, loyal customers: What is it about us that keeps you coming back?
  3. Lost customers: What one thing could we have done to have earned your repeat business?

What would you add to this list?

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4 Responses

  1. Two comments, if I may:

    1) I think one reason that execs in some companies don’t talk to customers is that the account managers in those firms shield their clients from exposure to other people within their firm. They’re often more worried that other people from their company will screw things up than make it better.

    2) Regarding the questions to ask customers…. regardless of the category, I would encourage any exec who does talk to a client for the first time to NOT use the words “us”, “we”, or “I”. The conversation should be about the client, his/her needs, his/her problems, his/her opportunities. The conversation shouldn’t become a verbal customer satisfaction survey.

  2. Thanks so much for the comments Ron! To your point #1 – if that is the case, then maybe another blog post should be titled “Why sales staff are afraid to take executives on customer calls.” To help alleviate this fear, executives need to understand it’s more about listening than talking. That means active listening – getting confirmation about what you heard from the customer. Also, if you want real feedback, don’t try and sell them!

    On your point #2 – That’s a great reminder about where the focus should be – on the customer. I have also found out that the first thing the customer mentions is very often not the real issue. You may need to dig deeper the get those “nuggets of wisdom.”

  3. Paul, I agree that these three groups of customers are a good starting point to building a conversation. If a lot of listening takes place (and not selling, as you point out in your above comment), hopefully the dialogue is now open for future interaction with at least two of those groups!

    I would take the groupings a little further as the company gets more sophisticated with their customer conversations and look at customers by value as well as tenure. We may have long-time customers who purchase on occasion but aren’t very profitable. We may have other customers that are high-value! Making sure we understand how to “do no harm” to our high value customers is critical to the health of their relationships with us, and the learnings can be applied to other groups of customers.

    Keep up the good work, Paul!

  4. Great points Becky! Once a customer dialog program gets started you need to dive deeper into your customer base to better understand who you are “engaging.” This type of program is intended to give greater insight into your customer’s perspectives. Those customers that are “high value,” as Becky mentions need to be well understood.

    I have also found that lost customers can also be high value if you treat their feedback respectfully and take it seriously. Sometimes the best way to know what to do right, is to know what you did wrong.

    Thanks for joining the discussion Becky!

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