Be Quick to Listen and Slow to React

By Eric Johnson

Taking time to listen to people who want to share something with you will keep you aware and help you to respond to trends. Reacting to trends or complaints too quickly can lead you down the wrong path and can be extremely costly.

This is a tough lesson for most of us to learn, as it goes directly against human nature. People, and especially the “type A” personalities often associated with entrepreneurship, usually feel as though they have a pretty good grasp on what is going on in their respective field of expertise. The danger lies in getting into a groove and becoming stuck. “We’ve always done it that way”, is a hallmark of this tragic mode of transacting business. I’m not saying that one should change things just for the sake of change, rather, all processes should be reviewed regularly and benchmarked against what is being absorbed from constant customer data mining.

As a sole proprietor, the customer data mining can be relatively simple, i.e. asking questions of your customer base as they are shopping or checking out. The further removed you are from the action of the sale, the more complex this process becomes, and can include social media, industry trending analysis, A/B testing and a myriad of other tools to get to the heart of your customers desires.

Let me give you a few examples of data mining that I hope will illuminate some possibilities for you. Early in 2009 I was operating small retail shop with only one other employee. We were selling a fairly complex product with a lot of moving parts, and it was intimidating to many of our customers. “What do I do if this thing ever breaks?” was a phrase that was heard on a nearly daily basis in the shop. We didn’t have a repair shop, in fact, there wasn’t a repair shop within fifty miles of us. After several months of research and polling our customer base, we had enough information to correctly plan and open our repair shop onsite. This was a boon to our business and soon after the opening, revenues from the repairs accounted for 60% of the overall business!

In another instance, I was operating a multi-million dollar business that was considering expanding into an adjunct line of business at significant cost, to increase incremental sales. The marketing team and sales team had created a beautiful proposal with data that had been gathered from a multitude of sources (including several highly regarded thought leaders) but hadn’t taken the step of polling our actual customer base to get their feedback on whether or not they would actually purchase this product. As it turned out, the problem that this new product solved didn’t justify its’ cost in our geography (the problem wasn’t an imperative for our customers) and they were not very likely to make the purchase. That customer poll not only saved the company a significant amount of money in inventory, labor, and advertising, but also saved us the embarrassment of rolling out a huge marketing program that would have clearly painted us as “out of touch” with our clientele.

Customer service agents, delivery personnel, and really any customer facing personnel can be a tremendous source of information. When client lodges a complaint, it should be dealt with quickly and decisively, and should exceed the clients expectations. That is good business, and a great way to ensure that you will have customers for a lifetime. In doing this however, one must be careful not to make policy changes “on the fly”. Doing so jeopardizes future business by making it increasingly difficult for customer service agents to know what to do in a given circumstance and appearing hesitant. A better way is to track the nature of the complaints and to get to the root of the problem. If it is systemic and policies need to be changed, then do so after the analysis has been completed. More often than not, the issue is a “one off”, where a confluence of factors created a bad situation.

These are a few examples of many that demonstrate the value of gathering information (listening), verifying it (slowly reacting), and then utilizing it to make sound business decisions. By following this method consistently, your business will benefit, your stress level will decrease, and you may even run across new opportunities that will take you to the next level!