February 15, 2011

Try To See It Your Way

You don't have to work with me for too long to know how much importance I place on seeing things from the point of view of your customer.

Simply put, I believe great brands always take the customer as their starting-point, as it helps them to meet their requirements much more effectively. But a recent chat with one of our clients has persuaded me of another great reason for getting to know your customer better: it can quickly rid you of any sense of entitlement. And a sense of entitlement is one of the great enemies to truly remarkable customer care.

I was reviewing customer research with Tomas Conefrey of Conefrey's Pharmacy in Dublin, and discussing the various strengths and weaknesses of his offer when compared with competing pharmacies in the area and seen from the point of view of his customer. Now this 'warts and all' exercise already demands a certain humility on the part of the business-owner. None of us likes to hear about the shortcomings in what we do. But Tomas took it a significant step further.

He remarked that it was only by looking at his own offer and those of his rivals from the far side of the counter that he'd started to truly appreciate why a customer might choose to buy from someone else. Previously, when a customer went somewhere else, he'd felt a little aggrieved or let-down, but putting himself in their shoes helped him to make sense of their choice. After all, if he wasn't offering them what they wanted, why wouldn't they go elsewhere?

His frankness prompted me to think back to my own recent experience, when a company in Galway that we were hoping to do business with chose a local brand-builder instead. Although I like to think of myself as magnanimous in defeat, my nose was immediately put out of joint when I got the news. Why hadn't they told us that being local was likely to count for more when they'd invited us to tender for the business? I found myself growing more and more annoyed that they'd made their choice on what seemed to me to be an unfair basis.

But when I put myself in their shoes as Tomas had done, I saw things differently. All other things being broadly equal, I'd prefer to do business with a local company too. It's much simpler after all. So why wouldn't they choose a neighbour, someone they could meet with easily and at short notice if required, maybe even known to them directly through a business network? They'd made the right choice for them, even if it was one that didn't suit me.

For our part, we'd simply failed to demonstrate any compelling reason to do business with us rather than a local firm. That wasn't their fault; it was ours. Next time, we needed to do better.

By stepping into the shoes of our customer, both Tomas and I saw the world differently, and were able to move past the sometimes self-absorbed point of view of the shop-keeper who sees things only from their side of the counter. Most importantly, we lost that sense of entitlement that can dog customer-care and send mixed messages to those making a choice as to what to buy.

When we recognise that our role in business is to help our customer make the right choice for them (rather than one that simply suits us) then it changes everything.

So step out from behind the shop-counter and onto the shop-floor. You'll see things better from there.