ListeningDo you know what executives who know their customers very well and can put them in their shoes better than others, do? They don’t sit behind computer screens, in planes or in boardrooms the whole time. They go out and visit their customers in frequent and systematic way. And it teaches them lots of things they can use to validate customer experience insights, find content opportunities, improve their marketing, service, products and so much more.

Obviously, the same goes regarding customer-facing employees. When was the last time you talked to one of your customer service reps, for instance?

While we’re all very “busy”, the customer not only deserves our time, understanding him/her will also make your life less “busy” as many of the insights and customer intelligence you gather, will help you work in a more informed, “real” and effective way when taking decisions. Also talk to the customer(s) of your customer(s) now and then or observe how they buy, what they want, how they act.

Customer experience: nothing beats experience

Here’s an example based on my own experience. In the beginning of my “career” I was a marketing manager at a computer vendor. The go-to-market of such a company typically is rather complex, with a mix of channel partners, ranging from integrators to retailers, sub-distributors, direct sales (in those days it was rather rare though). The best way I could find to understand how people but computers in a retailer’s shop was not looking at how I bought computers. It was spending several Saturday’s, when our offices were closed, with some bigger retailers in their computer department as one of their sales people, interacting with and selling to consumers. Nothing beats that experience.

If you go in with an open mind for questions from consumers and some questions you really want to see responded yourself, it’s a great way to gather intelligence about the consumer of your products but also about the challenges and opportunities of your partners, in this case the retailer.

Your customers don’t live in spreadsheets; you need to go out and talk to them to understand who they are as people. That is, of course, unless each of your customers is really a 55% female with 2.3 kids who is 48% from a suburb and is 11% hispanic. (Bruce Temkin, Temkim Group)

All it takes is listening, looking around, understanding and talking. From shop design to the tools your partners need to sell, the list is endless. This kind of exercises even leads to detecting content needs and many other indirect insights.

Going out there as a source of inspiration

After a long career in virtually all areas of “digital” and “marketing”, it’s still my belief that every executive, marketer, etc. should spend some time selling or being very close to customers in another way (yes, I also did customer support by phone and even tech support) by the way. But I could be biased as I started in sales. Nevertheless, give it a try.

Other great opportunities are trade shows and events. How often have you been at a trade show and have you actually talked to end buyers wandering around on top of talking with your direct customers, partners on the booth and colleagues? How often has it inspired you to create new services or content?

Validate your facts regarding the customer experience and customer journey mapping insights by going out. Better: do it before customer journey mapping even comes into the picture. It should be a mindset and even a “must”. Listening alone of course is not enough. You also need to act based on what you learn.

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