This is going to be a short post (for me at least) but I have been inspired today by an inspiring woman who also happens to be my VP. Today I was fortunate enough to be picked to join a lunch and learn with a group of my peers here at Arrow Electronics. You may or may not have been involved in similar events where you work. They are essentially a way for a group of peers who often do not get a chance to take a break in their days to get to know each-other to do do so and have an open roundtable discussion with an executive. I always find these interesting and love to get to know my coworkers. However, all too often, the open roundtable feels more like a political interview with double-talk or softball questions. To her credit, [my boss] didn’t bat an eye at some fairly tough questions. She is the perfect reflection of authentic leadership.
That said, that is not what has really inspired me so much as the message that she communicated throughout all of her answers. “Nothing is more important than getting to know our customers.” And I know, this sounds almost cliche these days. In fact it is written into the Amazon credo. And, if you asked me, I would say that I am obsessively customer focused. Ever since I have been in technology (one of my first jobs was a pre-cursor to today’s User eXperience design) I have tried to work from the customer back to the solution. Over the years I have found how much you can learn by customers through their behavior. Or more accurately, through the data that their behavior produces. But this is not at all what she meant. What she meant was good old fashion, face-to-face, getting to really know your customer. Sit with them and learn their pains.
I’ve drifted from that over the years living on or near the bleeding edge of technology. And I don’t believe I am alone in that. My field of technology has grown by such tremendous leaps and bounds over the 20-odd years that I have been in it. However, I think many of us have grown too comfortable in our tech cocoons thinking that we know our customers because we are gathering so much data about them. (Most of us are not collecting anything but anonymous clickstreams to be clear.) But there is no substitute to how we did it when I began. Sure we can collect so much more data these days and do more now with the data we collect. But that is sterile compared to the human factor that the data does not show.
So I challenge us all to go spend even 30 minutes sitting with your customers. See how they interact with your product. Truly listen to everything they have to tell you about it. Good or bad. No matter how great your data may be (I’ve seen an awful lot of data, so be honest. 😉), you can learn more in 30 minutes looking through your customer’s eyes.