Remember we talked about my friend Jon’s dictum: “Show up, pay attention, don’t lie?” I’ve already talked about showing up; today, I’ll share a few thoughts on paying attention.
There’s hardly anyone who won’t benefit from spending more time on this. It’s the cornerstone of at least one major world religion, and the watchword for everyone from mothers of toddlers to The Beatles. The subject is too vast for any one post to cover–I could probably write a daily blog called “Remarkable Attention.” (Which would be kind of cool.)
So I’ll pick out a few aspects of attention that I think are important, but give some thought to how paying better attention could make your own project work better. Put your focus (attention) on it and I guarantee you’ll find something.
It’s not about you
Have you ever considered what it is that drives you nuts about your friend who never pays attention to a word you say? What’s she paying attention to? If she’s making you nuts, I’m betting that it isn’t NASCAR or the Democratic primaries or her interprative dance career she’s putting all her attention on; it’s herself.
We can’t stand people who are so wrapped up in themselves that they can’t pay attention to us. We want someone to tune into our nonstop mental radio talk show, not their own. Being self-centered is a little like Dorothy Parker’s observation about the rich: “I hate almost all rich people, but I think I’d be darling at it.” We all think our own issues and concerns and preoccupations are important, or at least endearing, but we can’t stand the same self-centeredness in anyone else.
Like it or not, that’s what you’re dealing with in your customers. If your company is so enraptured with your own policies, rules, challenges, crises, concerns and problems that you’re not paying attention to your customers, you are doomed. Wal*mart can probably continue to get away with it–you can’t. (Here’s a pithy and very low-tech example of the right way to approach things.)
When you get complaints, feedback, and other useful information from customers, instead of immediately launching into all the reasons you can’t do that here, learn to SHUT UP AND LISTEN. Remember the cardinal rule of marketing: It’s not about you, it’s about the people who fund your payroll. Learn how to put aside any defensiveness–whether it’s your own or your employees’–to effectively pay attention to feedback when you’re lucky enough to get it.
I’m not saying you have to (or are able to) fix every problem and resolve every complaint. But if you don’t listen carefully and pay attention to grousing and complaints, even when they’re irritating, you’ll lose out on the opportunity to make some highly useful changes. And somewhere out there, you’ve got a competitor who will make them.
It’s good to get a little obsessed with how your customers respond to you. This means you’ve got to have some way to measure all of your communication. What percentage of your email list is actually opening your e-newsletter? How many are clicking through? When they do click through, what kind of stuff attracts them? What services or products do your customers respond to most strongly? What kind of language and tone seem to be working best to reach them? What kinds of offers get them out of procrastination mode and into action?
There are a lot of books and blogs and consultants who want to give you all that information without your having to measure it. If you have perfectly standardized customers who are exactly average, that will work well for you. Are your customers exactly average? Are anyone’s?
If you get in the habit of asking tons of questions and then figuring out how to measure the answers, you’ll start to notice when something works especially badly or especially well. The act of keeping an eye on customer response will naturally provide the right directions for change and growth. Keep tweaking and testing, and keep measuring the results, and you’ll find yourself doing more of the right things.
Ask for more information
Whatever kind of organization you have, you can find ways to serve your customers better. One of the smarter ways to do that is to ask them.
Big companies, small companies and microbusinesses can all benefit from creating a regular survey program to ask their customers how it’s going. Big companies use fancy, expensive survey companies, but even a tiny business can set up a survey using cheapo tools like Survey Monkey.
How do your customers feel about that nifty (expensive) improvement you just made? Do they even know about it? Does it solve a problem they cared about? How’s their relationship with your customer service people? What do they think about your policies? What do they wish you offered that you don’t now?
A good survey program measures two major themes–how happy people are with various aspects of your business, and how much those aspects matter to them. So if they don’t give your office hours high marks but those hours aren’t actually all that important to them, you don’t need to put that on the top of your list. Paying attention to what’s important to your customer, as well as to what they like and what they don’t, will help you prioritize improvements to provide the greatest value.
Paying attention is one of those things (like most of this series) that is easy to say and think about, but hard to do. It’s worth it. Push yourself to pay better attention to your customers (and while you’re at it, employees, if you have them). I predict you’ll start seeing some amazing results in a surprisingly short time.