thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Customer Complacency

By on November 11, 2009

The status quo is a funny concept. It is comforting and familiar, of course. In many cases, unfortunately, we are lulled into accepting what exists today and not realizing how much better it could be. We don't need to change the status quo every time. However, we need to challenge the status quo every time. Customer-centered organizations excel at challenging the status quo on behalf of their customers.

The status quo can be dangerous. The danger, of course, from a supplier's standpoint is that you set YOUR expectations too low about what the customer wants. It is easy to think that customers simply want what you have been giving them all along. The status quo can provide consistency, but also can create inertia. Creative organizations get beyond the assumptions that block effective solutions. They have taught themselves to recognize that there are other choices, if they go looking for them.


In the book Building Design Strategy, Dave Franchino of Design Concepts writes about the dramatic re-design of baseball batting helmets by Wilson Sporting Goods that changed the market completely.

For decades, kids in Little League baseball had been subjected to the bucket helmet--an oversized, generic plastic helmet that didn't seem to fit anyone quite right. It was too big, too clumsy, it blocked kids' vision and slipped off their heads. It provided little or no protection, so safety was a myth.

Wilson embraced the opportunity and re-entered this market with a well-researched alternative that not only worked much better, but was considered cool by the players. It was successful because it captured the convergence of really poor design (that had gone unnoticed) and a changing culture in which families were buying more of their kids' sports equipment. They delivered a solution that people wanted to purchase because it was flexible enough to connect with all of the needs of customers (parents, kids, and baseball coaches). Within three years, Wilson's market share rose from 0 to 30 percent, selling approximately 750,000 helmets.

Use the batting helmet success as a metaphor for customer-centered improvements in your company. If somebody had been paying attention through years of Little League baseball, we would have had improved helmets sooner. The market wanted it, but both manufacturers and customers had fallen prey to accepting what they already had. The lesson for any organization that wants to overcome inertia in its thinking: Focus on customer actions, not the things you are producing. Understand the unexpressed needs of the people that you are serving by thinking like a customer. Like the improved batting helmet, there are better ideas that have been there all along.

As a leader, start noticing things. Systematically, identify what has not changed or evolved in the customer experience (products and processes--and question why it is still the same. Turn over some "rocks" by questioning how your organization can transform taken-for-granted features into exciters that add value. Look for evidence that you are improving. The more vigorous your desire to help the customer, the greater the potential and the result will be more meaningful.

The Staples Singers sang "I'll Take You There" and that is what every organization should do for its customers. Traditional companies change what is not working (because it's better for them). Customer-centric organizations change what is already working (because it is better for the customer).

Photo by wsilver


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