Tell Your Customer What They Want

For many years, there has been an ongoing demolition of the ‘telling’ approach to service, whereby listening to the customer is the most important part of anyone’s job. Conversely, telling customers what you offer is evil. This applies to both internal and external customers, and is largely a reaction to the early part of the 20th century when telling the customer about what you do without listening was the norm. The result has been good – instead of customers  shoe-horning a solution or employee into their organization and achieving a mediocre result, the supplier or employee listens to customer needs and puts together a solution that achieves a better result.

There is a negative side to this, though: employees and suppliers are only listening to customers and then doing what they’re told. The focus is on taking customer requirements and attempting to turn them into a to-do list. Mostly instruction questions are asked instead of outcome questions. Their heart is in the right place, but employees and suppliers are listening too much.

Being disruptive requires listening just the right amount. Focus on desired outcomes (not instructions) and then tell the customer what they need to achieve them. To customers, this is the most valuable approach because you are bringing your own judgment and accountability to the table. Having your customer give you boxes to check is safer, but it isn’t very valuable to them.

Telling and listening without the other are both wrong. Learn to listen for what your customer is trying to achieve (outcomes) and then tell them how to get there (instructions). By taking accountability for your solution’s effectiveness and owning the risk and expense of execution, you increase your own sustainability and profitability.

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