Understanding Your Customers: Nothing Beats Talking to Them

In his recent article entitled 7 Elements of Customer Understanding the C-suite Must Master, Tony Zambito addresses the critical and ever-increasing need for CEOs and their C-suite teams to develop and maintain a deep understanding of their customers to stay competitive.  All of the elements he references – from analytics, to customer journey mapping, to personas and the customer ecosystem – are important to creating an integrated view of the customer that is so often lacking.

However there is an 8th key element missing from this list, and that is direct, face to face engagement with those customers. Especially for your executive-level clients, there is no substitute for meeting and talking with them directly, and involving them in your business strategy to stay relevant and maintain a competitive edge.  This is why programs like Customer Advisory Councils or Boards, or Executive Forums have such an important role to play in keeping your C-suite connected to what your customers want and need.  (Read here to learn more about the power of Advisory Boards)

Here are a few of the reasons why the in-person element is a critical:

  • Executives value peer sharing and engagement – they are more likely to provide valuable insights and useful feedback when talking to their peers – in this case, your own executive team and other clients who are just like them
  • Executives typically avoid sharing openly in digital formats or online forums, given privacy concerns and competing priorities for their time, so you may be missing a key component of customer understanding by relying on surveys and buyer data
  • Seeing (and hearing) is believing – no matter how much data you show, and how many journey maps you walk them through, your own C-suite will still find it easier to comprehend and consider the need to take action when they hear directly from their strategic clients on what they care about
  • Relationships are about people – customers in this disruptive world increasingly expect individual, personalized connections with their vendors, and the more significant and strategic the relationship is, the more important it is to connect, collaborate and communicate directly on a systematic basis

Your C-suite will find great benefit by adding the in-person engagement element to your program of ‘customer understanding’, including the ability to:

  • Obtain deeper and more impactful feedback and advice on how your company is responding to disruptions and changes, and what the competition is doing too
  • Test and validate what you’ve learned about customer needs and challenges through other channels or venues
  • Reinforce and verify the value and relevance of your customer journey mapping, and your understanding of the changing ecosystems – and maybe simplify it as well
  • Co-create and collaborate on the future direction of the business, where to focus, where to invest – instead of going it alone

As Tony Zambito points out in his article, none of the seven elements he cites work in isolation – but if you really want to get to customer understanding, add in the all-important eighth factor of the personal connection: you may even get there faster.

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