Keep Your Customers Close


The business world is facing a society and environment like never before. While on one hand it seems like the progress has slowed down and there are fewer big change waves, at the same time we are creating more small scale inventions than ever before. New technology is tweaking our lives, making it easier to do almost everything and at the same time giving most of you in the business world a headache on how in the world to keep up. How to know which novelties will become popular and which will bust? And could your management practices ensure the cash cow of today will not become a dog tomorrow? Let’s see.

Staying relevant and understanding what your customers want is key to survival in this market. As new companies are founded every single day, you have to change with the technology and trends or your customers will move on. And due to the same speed of change it is becoming more and more important to actually ask and listen what the customers opinions are.

“Business executives should leave the big data and offices behind and go talk to their customers once in a while.” says Martin Lindstormm and I could not agree more. In his recent article, Mr. Lindstormm outlines holding on to what you think your customers want as one of the main reasons most of Fortune 500 companies from 1955 are no longer. And with the ever-changing technology capabilities, it has become not only more difficult to predict customers wishes, but also more important to ask what they are.

Surely, you’ve heard this idea before. But how many companies out there do truly abide in it? It might be easy at the beginning, but as the company grows and forms a brand identity, most of us tend to start assimilating ourselves with the product. And yes, in some cases (actually in most of them) you truly do know your customers and what they would prefer, but there are also those instances when you get it wrong. And those are crucial. Crucial for your quarterly report, success and even survival.

So how should you get the feedback culture into your office and forget the product bias? One way of doing so is actually leaving your office and going to work the front lines once in a while. Take up the cashier or the customer call center position for a few days and you will learn more than you ever could from the report sheets. Undoubtedly, this is a great way of gathering information, at the same time as I was reading Mr. Lindstormm’s article, I couldn’t help but wonder if the right management practice could yield the same results without being as disruptive to the process? And then Agile popped into my mind.

Agile is built to be nimble, responsive and to collect customer’s wishes at each iteration. So by applying Agile management methods into an organization, we are automatically giving people a premise on talking to the customer and hearing their opinion. More so than any other project management practice Agile family is built on interaction between the product and its environment. So it could actually be a great help and an asset for those trying to listen to their customers more.

For those getting excited, I should mention, simply taking on one of the practices will not be the end of your effort. It will only be a first step into a more responsive company, with other organizational steps to follow. To get the full customer insights at each level, teams will have to determine how and which feedback they will collect.  It will be easier for functional teams that provide the customer with some final result and more difficult for managerial teams. But as they figure out how to collect valuable feedback in each iteration, they  will no longer have to change their schedules to do so.

Therefore it could be stated that Agile is definitely not the one and only answer for those looking to improve their understanding of the customer wishes, but it is a tool that could help achieve this goal. Agile creates a great premise for talking and understanding the people you are trying to sell to and when used right can help bring unwilling company structures into actually reaching out and collecting those valuable insights. However, as any change it will come easier to some than others and should be sought out by those willing to experiment and fail on their way to success.


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