Are you listening to your customers?

By Larry Robertson, CEO | Competitive Issues

Apr 05
man with fingers in his ears not listening to customers

Are you listening to your customers?

“Mail” travels at the speed of light these days. And nearly everyone in the developed world has a phone in their pocket. Given all the ways technology facilitates business communication today, listening to customers should be easier than ever. However, this is not always the case. Communication seems to be more awkward and less efficient today than it was several decades ago… especially in corporate America.

Long gone are the days when you could call just about any company, explain your quest to a member of the human race and be transferred to a real person who would at least pretend to be interested in what you had to say. 

A great example from the past 

Back in the 80’s, I worked for the highest rated aircraft service company in the world, Combs Gates, Div. of Gates Learjet. Every Memorial Day weekend, the largest fleet of corporate jets in the world, descended on our facility (FBO) in Indianapolis IN. Throngs of corporate tycoons and A-list celebrities congregated for a weekend of festivities, that culminated with the Indianapolis 500. It was always a major challenge for our ground crews to live up to the reputation bestowed on them by consistently winning “Pro Pilot Magazine’s” annual contest for the best service in the aviation industry… Each year during this hectic weekend, one of our most senior executives swapped his suit and tie for a lineman’s uniform, and joined the crew on the flight line. For the next 3 days, Thomas Winget, president of Combs Gates Indy, became Tom, the courtesy-bus driver and baggage handler. This was not a PR stunt. It was a sincere effort of a senior executive to stay connected to his customer base by working alongside his rank and file. This gave “Tom” a valuable, firsthand customer-perspective from hearing what they had to say on the ride to and from their hotels.

By today’s contrast, consider how many “legitimate” businesses hide under “digital rocks.” They go out of their way to avoid customer contact. Many corporate websites omit their phone numbers and physical address. And if you do somehow manage to find their phone number, you have to listen to computer-generated elevator music, intermingled with a monotonous recording every 30 seconds of someone telling you how much they value your call and reminding you that you can avoid the wait by hanging up and visiting their website, where you can sift through their catalog of FAQs?

Listen and win

To be fair, every business has periods of peak demand, when calls go in the queue or voicemail but let’s be honest. If a business does not post its physical address on its website and have live people answering its phone, it’s forgotten the purpose of being in business in the first place. After all, the goal of every business is (or should be) to connect with customers in a meaningful way. This means being there when THEY feel compelled to share relevant feedback. Some of that feedback can be humbling, but brands that make that connection remain relevant. The one who listens best, WINS.” 

A warning to CPGs and retailers

This tech-induced degradation of service is becoming prevalent in the CPG & retail industry. While many retail and CPG pundits make a lot of noise about their commitment to innovation, their efforts usually focus almost almost exclusively on “methods” of processing and shipping orders for the same commodity products everyone else is selling. When it comes to merchandise-focused innovation…  well that’s often a very different story. I recently met with a group of CPG executives who complained that their chain store buyers (on active accounts) rarely answered or returned their calls. One VP of national accounts said the only way she was able to get “elusive” chain buyers on the phone, was to send them a meeting request and wait for them to call (somewhat miffed) to ask the purpose of the meeting… amazing but true.

About the Author

Larry is the CEO and co-founder of AON Invent. He has enjoyed a career that has spanned sales, marketing, and product innovation for companies that include subsidiaries of AMR/American Airlines, Learjet and Sam's Club. In 1995 he teamed up with Ron Loveless, the founding CEO of Sam's Club, to launch a marketing and product development firm that grossed $500 million in its first 3 years. Over the past 20+ years, Larry has personally vetted over 1,000 product concepts and marketing strategies.