Comment from Meld Studios: Why executives need to meet their customers
If you’re an executive, it’s time to face facts. Fact is, if you never come face-to-face with your customers, you risk making the wrong choices about how best to serve them. Want to reduce that risk? Sit down with your customers and let them serve you up some real-life insights into what’s working for them and what’s not.
Australian companies are growing at a rapid rate. Along with this expansion comes new layers of management that widen the gap between executives and their customers. Meld Studios Principal and Co-Founder Steve Baty describes this gulf as problematic at best — catastrophic at worst. “With layers of management comes the potential for layers of interpretation, aggregation and miscommunication,” Steve explains. “Consequently, feedback from front-line staff has the potential to be lost or diluted as it travels through a myriad of channels.” To counter the problem, Steve recommends an explicit program of activity in which executives engage directly with their customers — ideally, once every six weeks.
How and where to meet
In-situ observations of customers interacting with products and services can be beneficial. However, according to Steve, nothing beats a face-to-face conversation between an executive and a customer.
“As human beings, we are social animals so getting information firsthand is critical,” says. “Instead of a line item in a spreadsheet, or a data point in a report, these dialogues deliver a full immersive experience of a customer’s feelings and frustrations — in all their glory!”
Be prepared for a challenging chat
Steve admits it can be difficult for executives to hear misgivings from customers who may be ill-informed or misinformed about the frameworks that influence an organisation’s decision-making processes. Whilst an experienced facilitator will help smooth the way for a constructive discussion, Steve cautions against executives taking a reactive position.
“In this setting, your role is not to justify or defend yourself or your company,” Steve explains. “Your role is simply to listen.” To prevent prejudicing the discussion, Steve says it’s best executives introduce themselves as simply representing the company — rather than directly identifying a specific department or remit.
Benefits of real-life customer connections
Executives are charged with driving the strategic direction of large-scale, complex organisations — via the decisions they make each and every day. According to Steve, executives make better decisions when they’re better informed about the customers whose lives they’re impacting. “Good decisions have a flow-on effect across all aspects of an organisation,” Steve says. “The benefits include increased sales, increased customer and staff retention, reduced waste and reduced risk.”
Steve cites research highlighting how companies that directly engage with their customers are outperforming their competitors by more than 200%. It’s a staggering statistic and one that’s hard to ignore.
No time is no excuse
For time-poor executives, it can be both challenging and stressful to juggle their own workloads along with the demands of their direct reports. However, the value of prioritising time with customers cannot be overstated.
Steve has a simple response for executives who argue they have no time to meet with their customers. “I simply ask, ‘do you have time to make mistakes’?”
Steve Baty, Principal at Meld Studios, has over 18 years of commercial experience applying the philosophy and methods of design to tackle the challenges facing organisations. Steve is well known in the area of experience strategy and design, contributing to public discourse on these topics through articles and conferences