Are you Listening to Your Customers too Much?


“Listen to your customer,” is the most basic tenet deeply ingrained into any executive. But, there is another school of thought emerging that seems to suggest a little otherwise. It may seem surprising, but that’s how it goes – don’t keep all your focus on listening to your customer. This is all the more surprising in today’s context, where there is a lot of stress on social listening.

What could possibly be wrong with asking the customers and giving them what they want? Nothing, apparently. But, a lot in reality if its substituting your imagination. Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." This answers the question to some extent. And, to this can be attributed the emergence of this divergent thought process.

This, however, is not to negate the importance of customer listening. “Input from customers is obviously important. Social listening is important. But that's not the whole answer. Customer input doesn't substitute for your own imagination,” says Charles Doyle, CMO of Jones Lang Lasalle in one of his interviews.

By listening to the customers, an enterprise can only go up to meeting their demands and excelling in it. But, not beyond it. Nothing wrong in it, as long as you are happy being an ordinary enterprise doing well. The moment you strive to be extraordinary and a disruptor, this ceases to be enough.

Enterprises need to go beyond the call of the customer and depend on a whole lot of imagination for creating new categories altogether and market segments that the customer never thought could even exist and never thought he/she would even need it. Imagination has the capability to take beyond the threshold of the known and the expected.

Doyle gives examples of Google and Amazon among such companies that have used imagination to create new categories. “They didn't do what they did by responding to customers; they created whole new categories their future customers couldn't dream of,” he explains.

The question that you need to ask yourself is -  whether you are satisfied being within the realm of the expected by just listening to your customers or you would rather go beyond that?

Categories: Leadership

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