In a strange juxtapositioning of articles, this month’s UK Management Today’ has three pieces, relating to the importance of listening to customers.
Susan Rice, CEO of Lloyds TSB makes it clear how vital it is for great leaders to listen and hear. She uses the example of how Coca Cola was swift to ‘hear’ it’s customers when they revolted against New Coke back in 1985 (good job too, it was yuk!). She also rails against the viability of change programmes where over 70% fail to meet the original objectives. A dismal return, pretty consistently due to failing to hear the needs of staff as well as customers in the business.
Fast forward to page 19, where a small piece follows the situation Henry Ford precipitated in the early 20’s, with his policy of ‘any colour as long as it’s black’, for his new revolution in car making, the Model T. This worked very well for a few years, giving Ford an enormous 57% of the market. Yet this historic icon of manufacturing efficiency, came back to bite him. His competitors, almost behind his back, found out, by asking and listening, that their customers wanted different colours.
By 1927, General Motors had stolen a March on Ford – and taken a big lead – and market share.
And finally, in an issue strangely focused on customer service, there is a long look at the state of the fashion market in the UK, now led by those lower priced upstarts who have become very visible over the last decade. From Asda’s George brand, through TK Maxx, to Matalan, Primark and Peacocks. These are all mounting the pavement and decimating traditional fashion retailers.
Marks and Spencer are the usual victims, but not the only ones. The common strand here is that the victors are listening closely to and responding to the needs of their customers – they are taking the time to find out and, what’s more, they are ‘sensing’ the mood; the trend of fashion retailing.
Maybe listening to customers is as vital as it seems. And whilst on the subject, a closer attention to employees wouldn’t come amiss either.
What to do in your business?
Ask questions of the people that matter – customers and employees.
Listen to their answers and question more.
Act quickly on those things you can fix quickly.
Build into your short-, medium- and long-term strategies the things you are finding out.
Work to ensure that your people are empowered to do this all the time, day in, day out and to feedback to where it will be noticed
By Michael Wilson