If you want customers to buy the goods and services you sell, it is what the customer thinks that counts. How do your customers decide what to buy? Do they care how hard you worked, how important it is to you, or what you think makes your product or service better? Maybe, maybe not.

If you are looking to be successful in your marketplace, you have to care more about what THEY think than about what YOU think, even if you know a lot more about it than they do. Put yourself in their shoes and walk around a bit. Now how do you see it?

What do customers complain about?

Working with a bank in Mississippi taught me just how deep-seated internal perspectives can be. For several months I had been working with the executive team, a fairly enlightened group led by a visionary career banker. On this particular day, however, the next layer of management was involved in discussions about what could be stopped so there would be resources to start down the new path of growth. There were twenty-five gray suits in the room. We were talking about what practices, policies, and programs were offered because it had always been that way; the status quo. I asked them to discuss what customers were complaining about. Could those practices change?

Why don’t they see it my way?

One banker was frustrated that customers didn’t understand why they had to charge service fees on dormant accounts which often held little money. Eventually the monthly fees created negative balances on accounts and that really rocked their customers’ worlds. “If only they understood our costs”, the banker said. However, that is not outside in thinking. In an effort to help him “wear customer shoes” we examined fees that those in the room paid that they didn’t like and didn’t understand, like baggage fees for checked luggage when flying. Wouldn’t it be great to have the good old days back when luggage flew for free? When asked to think as consumers, the bankers could readily identify what fees they didn’t like or understand. They got it, right? Point made. So the fee could be banished? Uh, no! The same banker said it just didn’t make financial sense. And around we went.

Customers don’t care how hard it is

The point is, customers just don’t care why you can’t do something. They don’t care that it is not your policy or that it is hard or that it costs money. They have been told, in the name of customer service and brand loyalty by many other companies, that they deserve to be satisfied and even have their expectations surpassed. Why would they want to listen to a long-winded explanation of banking finances?

Generic responses to complaints are not helpful

What do customers do if their complaints receive a generic response to their complaints? Most agree that they will not return to the company, or recommend it to people they know. The company may lose that customer, plus others in that customer’s circle of friends and acquaintances. And the company may never know about it!

A hotel manager complained about how hard it is to address every concern, especially when many complain on review sites instead of bringing their complaints to the manager’s attention. Maybe you can relate to that. But can you also relate to the customer who could not sleep the night before a big presentation because of a noisy group in the floor above, or construction going on across the street?  Does the customer pay for a hotel room, or for a good night’s sleep?  Customers are buying a solution to a need (a good night’s sleep) rather than a thing (a hotel room).  You do.  Your customers do too.

So what solution is your customer buying, when they buy the thing you are selling?

Lead from outside-in

Outside-in thinking means looking at the situation through another’s eyes, the lens of the customer we are trying to serve. How does it appear to them? Does it seem reasonable and fair? Is it a price they are willing to pay for what they get? People vote with their dollars and with their online comments. It is not about right or wrong, it is about delivering against expectations established by the industry as a whole, and your brand specifically. Lead from the outside-in, as this is the view that correlates to successful next-stage growth opportunities.

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