Imagine working for years at a company, developing products or services, and not knowing what your customers think of them. I think the vast majority of employees are in that situation–nearly completely disconnected from their customers. Yes, companies have technical support people and sales people who talk to customers, but what about executives and senior managers? The people making the big decisions often have little if any “customer capital” — or knowledge of what the customers want and think.
This even happens in internet companies. In 1999 when Curt Allen was CEO of MyFamily.com he asked the management team (about 12 of us) how many of us had talked to a customer in the last 30 days. No one had.
I felt indicted. So I decided to change that. I started having phone calls with customers every week. And I invited others to sit in on the calls with me. We got incredible feedback from some of our best MyFamily.com customers. It was wonderful. It changed our opinions and ideas about so many things.
When I was VP Marketing at MyFamily.com in 2001, I required my marketing employees to spend a day a week at our call center listening to customer calls, so that they could be aware of what the customers were thinking and saying. This had a major impact on all of us.
Now I hear about some of the changes that are happening at Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com and I am absolutely certain that they are not being implemented because our customers are asking for them — but because someone in management is just deciding to make some changes. Like discontinuing the Ancestry Daily News. And pricing. And not providing access to new databases for 10 days every time we post a new one, the way we used to. Huge numbers of people are disappointed by changes like this, but I’m not sure anyone is listening.
Way too many big decisions are made without understanding what the customers want!
(Note: I have not been involved at MyFamily.com since February 2002. My posts are simply my personal opinion.)
In February of this year I assumed management of LDS Media, one of Provo Labs portfolio companies, and quickly realized I wasn’t personally getting feedback from our customers.
So to change that, we put a feedback form on every page of our site. Yesterday I got 11 suggestions from customers and two want to have phone conversations.
I also started a blog for LDSMedia.com which I believe will turn into an ongoing conversation with our customers. Every time we add new content to our search engine we’ll blog about it.
We are going to do the same thing at worldhistory.com and with our other vertical search engines.
The process of asking for input from customers and blogging about it and then acting on their suggestions and blogging when you’ve done it is a wonderful cycle.
I heard a prominent VC in Utah complain that the biggest problem with companies is not understanding what the customers really want.
Every company can easily address this if the CEO will take the lead in asking for and evaluating customer suggestions and in having conversations with them regularly and asking everyone else too as well.