My father was a salesman. He owned a small storm window and storm door business that he was very proud of.
He worked very hard trying to grow his company as economic changes often dictated different conditions. He had an entrepreneurial spirit that never allowed him to give up or quit. Whenever I would ask him how he learned all about his products and services he would always say the same thing:
“ I learned everything about my business from my customers. They taught me the ins and outs of my industry and how to be successful.”
What an insight for any leader to recognize that they could grow and flourish by turning to their internal and external customers for counsel. It seems such an obvious place to pivot yet many leaders think they know it all. They feel that they should be teaching their customers because of all of their expertise. Yet just the opposite is true- our customers can offer us lessons and advice to be stronger leaders.
Here are six ways leaders can learn their business from their customers:
1. LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMER CONCERNS
Believe it or not, if we are willing to approach our customers on our teams or those we service outside our organizations and find out how we can be more helpful, we might actually gain some important truths about our products. When people sense that we are honestly looking for helpful information about our products or services, they may be more willing to share. Although asking why we are possibly failing or coming up short may make us feel vulnerable. But don’t think of vulnerability as a negative. It is through this vulnerability we will develop trust and deeper customer relationships.
2. ASK FOR INPUT FOR SOLUTIONS FROM THEM
Not only do we need to ask for concerns from our customers but we also need to ask how they might solve the gaps or problems. Our customers might have creative ways to tackle a challenge or just view the problem differently from us.
3. BRAINSTORM AS A PARTNERSHIP
Two heads are usually better than one and that means working together on solutions with our customers will often create better end results. Have fun in a brainstorming session with someone from another department. Not only will you end up with a richer solution, but also you will probably end up learning more about each other.
4.KEEP YOUR MIND AND HEART OPEN
To benefit from our customer’s ideas and suggestions, we need to remain flexible and poised to trying something new. Leaders will never benefit from their customer responses if they think they have to control a decision.
5. PILOT A SUGGESTED CHANGE
Whatever we learn from our customers it is always a good idea to try it out in a limited way first. By piloting a new product we will have the opportunity to “iron out the kinks” before going live. I learned so much from my colleagues and customers about designing my website, but I always tried things out before going live.
6. CREATE ON-GOING FEEDBACK
To continually learn from our customers, leaders need to encourage a constant flow of ideas, suggestions and concerns. To do this, our customers need to feel a level of trust and transparency with us. We also must be grateful for their sharing. My father shared his appreciation with his customers as they really helped him become a stronger businessman and leader.