There is no better way to follow the cliché “Stay close to your customer,” than to be your customer. Experience doing business with your company as much as possible, the same way your customer does. Read your company’s product advertising and sales literature. Have a non-knowledgeable friend read the advertising. Is it clear, straightforward, devoid of technical jargon, devoid of industry lingo? If you are not familiar with the assembly instructions that accompany your product, give them a try. If you are familiar with the assembly, ask a non-technical person to do the assembly. Call with a tricky question, one you discovered reading customer complaint letters or reading quality surveys. How long does it take to get connected to a person? What do you think of the tunes played why you wait? Does the person you’re connected to have the authority to solve your problem? If you get the problem solved, or if you don’t, call back and do it all over again. See if there is a difference in outcome from the two calls. (Make three or four calls if you really care.)
Fill your advertising inquiry cards and monitor the response. Fill out a business reply card and monitor the response. Fill out one of your post-purchase customer survey forms. Put a note on the bottom of the form saying, “To anyone reading this form: You, or the charity of your choice, will get N2500.00 if you call me. My number is . . .”
Read any and all customer complaints. Read old ones. Call customers. Try to read and remember the phone numbers on your trucks while they are moving and you are moving. Speed past your billboard and then ask a passenger to quote the billboard message.
Visit the stores or dealerships or outlets that sell your products. Check the pricing, display, and literature of your products. Ask the clerks some questions. Buy the product, finance the product, fill out rebate coupons and warranty cards, experience the service, return the product . . . just like your customer. Time everything. Talk to everybody, Take notes.
The objective, open-minded, keenly aware, dispassionate, the ego-controlled super marketer will always find ways to make it easier and better for your customer to buy, and to continue to buy.
It is not easy to be your own customer, especially when the sales cycle is long, when the purchase involves a lot of money, or when the product or service experience is complex. Yet when it is hard to be a customer is exactly when you must be. How can you fix or improve the customer experience, get an edge on competitors, and innovate if you do not know what the customer knows?
The airline executive who gets VIP service from start to finish; who never gets bumped, never trapped in a middle seat between two weight lifters; or who, as is too often the case, whistles up a private jet is not going to be in touch with what bothers the customer. The auto manufacturer executive who drives a new and different car model every day, always shined, fully gassed, who never visits a dealership to endure the hassle of price, options, colours, service, and delivery date cannot relate to the people who pay his paycheck. Do you think your doctor waits an hour in a patient waiting room when he sees his doctor? If he did wait an hour, maybe you wouldn’t be kept in his waiting room. (Isn’t the concept of a “waiting room” obnoxious? No one should wait if they have a prescheduled appointment.)
When you are your own customer, and you are happy and pleased, your business will do well. And vice versa.