I’ve heard it said that as you get older, you believe less in a lot of things but believe more in a few things. After 17 years of customer experience work at Creative Good, I’m coming to believe more and more in the power of observing customers. To put it strongly:
No matter how good the reports, no matter how good the economic or financial theory underlying them, nothing beats personal, direct observation.
Here’s the twist. I can’t take credit for that previous sentence, because it was written years ago by Peter Drucker, the pioneering management thinker, in his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century. Like many nuggets of customer experience wisdom I’ve accumulated along the way, the knowledge has been around for awhile. As often as not, I find that Drucker himself was the first person to write about it.
The importance of direct customer observation was covered recently in this column on Time.com by Rick Wartzman, executive director of the The Drucker Institute. It also recommends Customers Included as resource on the topic.
Despite the seemingly obvious benefits of observing customers, it’s common to see organizations missing that step – and suffering consequences that can reverberate for years. Take just three case studies from Customers Included – Ford, Walmart, and the border fence – in which a lack of customer-inclusive thinking led to enormous losses (estimated at around a billion dollars each for Walmart and the border fence).
Years after the incidents, people are still talking about them. Here are just three recent mentions I’ve spotted in the press:
• From last month, Border Patrol Seeks to Add Digital Eyes to Its Ranks. Quote: “Homeland Security officials are still smarting from a disastrous border technology program that cost more than $1.1 billion and produced very limited results.” I wonder if the new high-tech ideas are including the customer any better.
• From a few weeks ago, Ford is removing Microsoft technology from its cars. Quote: “Problems with Ford’s in-car systems, especially as the company introduced versions that came with dashboard touch screens, hurt the company’s customer satisfaction ratings in recent years.”
• And from the WSJ last fall, as Walmart brought on a new CEO, a comment on the previous CEO’s tenure:
WalMart . . . in the middle of the last decade [suffered] disastrous results. In an attempt to attract higher-income shoppers and better compete with rivals like Target Corp., the company began paring back the number of items it carried to unclutter its aisles and tried to boost margins by moving from a policy of everyday low prices to one of more targeted sales. Customers balked, and WalMart soon retreated.
If anyone asks why it’s important to include customers, or why it makes sense to directly observe customers, just send them those articles. The mistakes recounted in Customers Included are still felt today, years later… and yet the solution is simple. As Peter Drucker put it, nothing beats personal, direct observation.
(As always, get in touch if Creative Good can help.)