So, I’m at the dentist having the usual discussion about flossing more regularly as he scrapes around the inside of my mouth with an implement that seems unnecessarily sharp – well actually he’s saying I should floss more, I’m simply saying “nn nuh nn uh gruh eh” – anyway, I notice a stain on his ceiling tiles. When he’s stopped holding my tongue in position with his mirror, I’m able to say “nasty damp patch on your ceiling there”.
“Where” he says, “oh, that’s new, I wonder what that is?”.
Well, it wasn’t new, I’m no expert, but it looked to me like a leak that had been slowly running for several months. But this moment made me realise that the dentist very seldom looks up in his own surgery. Obviously that’s what the patients do all the time. So there was I thinking that dentists should recline in their own chairs now and again to see how their customers viewed the experience.
It’s important to know how your customers see you. “You need to walk a mile in your customer’s shoes” is a popular consultant’s line. While I draw the line at wearing other people’s shoes – half my customers are women, for a start, and then there’s the athlete’s foot – I know that it’s essential to see the world from your customer’s point of view if you want to stay in business.
Do you know how it feels to be one of your customers? When was the last time your company took time out to see how people felt about it? Many retailers use ‘mystery shoppers’ as a way of keeping a check – that’s harder in our sector, but you could just talk to them.
It doesn’t have to cost a fortune - yes, you could engage a firm of research consultants to go out and interview your customers so you don’t get the natural sales-force bias colouring the results. But all that really matters is that the conversation happens with someone who isn’t their normal contact.
What about that underemployed admin assistant, or the materials buyers who aren’t so busy just now, or the invoice clerks with less invoices to issue. Or maybe, right now, when you’re not flat out building stuff, you could take time out to listen to a few yourself and see how they feel.