When I was in publishing, I worked on a project with my friend, Eddie, who runs a production company in L.A. (Eddie is well-respected and well-connected with Hollywood people in the music and movie industries.) As part of the multimedia program we were building for schools, Eddie enlisted some high-profile household names to donate their time and skills. The high-profile professionals were a pleasure to work with. They focused on meeting our needs to deliver a great product to the kids would use it.
Another group of actors fueled an ongoing conversation for Eddie and me. They were a handful of actors who viewed the universe as revolving around them. Every word they said, every question they asked, every idea they had was about them. Eddie and I turned our caricature of them into comedy telephone routine that went like this...
Me: Hello, Eddie, how am I?
Eddie: You're fine. How am I?
Me: You're wonderful as always.
Eddie: Enough about me, let's talk about you. How do YOU like my new sweater?
Me: I love your sweater as I love my own.
Eddie: You know I have these friends...when I call them up all they want to do is talk about themselves. Can you believe people would treat me like that?
Are you asking about customers or about yourself?
Eddie and I would have our fun with the idea that no matter how we approached a conversation, that certain cadre of actors could bring the spotlight back on them. It happened so often that it was more interesting to predict their responses than to actually listen to what they said.
My guess is that those actors were unaware that they had such a self-absorbed view of the world. Is your marketing in the same unaware, self-centered place? Think about it. Do all of the questions you ask customers sound like these?
- What do you think of our new product?
- How was your experience with our website?
- Did you enjoy your last visit with us?
- How would you describe our service?
- Will you be recommending us to your friends?
If your purpose is to gather information on what customers think about you and their experience with you, every one of those questions passes the test. They're all valid questions in the same way that "What do you think about my sweater?" is a valid question which asking someone's fashion advice.
If your purpose is to get to know your customers, the questions above don't deliver. Ask questions about customers, not what they think of you.
- What are your goals for the next two quarters?
- What do you wish your business/life had more of...less of?
- What is the best surprise you experienced in any business transaction?
- What do most companies undervalue about you as their customer?
- What do you value most in the companies you keep?
When we move ourselves out of the center of the conversation, the possibility for relationship comes back into balance. The chance to connect goes wider and deeper. Every answer provides an opportunity to ask another question and understand the why that moves that customer's decisions. It's exponentially easier to provide products and services when we're serving people we understand.
Eddie and I didn't enjoy working with the unaware, self-absorbed actors who never said a word, asked a question, or had an idea that wasn't about them.
Enough about what I think, how did YOU like this blog post?
Seriously, when does it become important that a business gets to know its customers better than "what do you think of us"?