Exploring Your Beliefs about Your Customers
Have you and your coworkers ever discussed your beliefs about your customers? Or questioned those beliefs? The executives in one company questioned their beliefs about their corporate customers and were shocked at the perception gap between what their customers wanted and what they, the executives, thought their customers wanted.
This was a company that had been doing things the same old way for decades. And for decades, they'd been successful. Despite numerous bouts of customer dissatisfaction over the years, the company had been doing well. If some customers decided to take their business elsewhere, well, others would soon take their place. The potential for failure, or even a serious downturn, was not part of their mindset.
But times had changed, and customers had become savvier and more demanding. Suddenly (or so it mistakenly appeared, since such things are rarely sudden), customers were no longer willing to settle for business as usual, and in large numbers they took their business elsewhere.
Management realized the company's future might be at risk if they didn't challenge their beliefs about how the business should function and shake the mindset that the current way was the one right way. One strongly held belief was that unless customers had direct contact with a salesperson, they wouldn't buy the company's products. It didn't matter that customers had access to extensive online and published information; they wouldn't buy—or so the thinking went. Worse, management believed that customers were incapable of making informed decisions on their own.
Beliefs like these were so deeply ingrained in this company that they were at the root of its policies, practices, and culture. True, these beliefs were not without foundation. Due to the complexity of the company's products, these beliefs made sense at one time. But "at one time" was over. Times had changed, and so had customers.
Modifying one's beliefs is no simple chore. For this company, it meant replacing attitudes that were outdated with forward-looking views that reflected current realities. Key to this transformation was breaking the well-ingrained habit of reacting to new ideas with "That's not how we do things here." It gradually became possible (though not easy) for the company to make some dramatic changes in its products, services, and policies.
The potential for misguided beliefs about customers exists wherever customers exist, and customer dissatisfaction can often be traced to such misguided beliefs. Therefore, it may be a good idea to periodically question whether you deliver your products and services as you do because of well-entrenched beliefs that this is the way you should do so. Ask, “Do our beliefs fit the world as it is, rather than as it once was?” The answer could be enlightening.