As an employee responsible for customer advocacy at a software vendor, I often receive requests from colleagues in the development teams requesting me to help them connect to our customers and seek feedback on our existing products or solutions and validate new product ideas.
Having been in this scenario so many times, I realise that there is a big difference between customer engagement and customer centricity.
In one, you work with the customer, together to achieve common objectives (which is so rare). This activity can only succeed if both the customer and the supplier have deep skin in the game. Even if one is not committed fully, it is likely that the time spent together not yield much benefits to either. In the worst case, it could even cause negative sentiments among the customers and the suppliers.
A customer working with the development team of an ERP vendor to identify and help fix key functional gaps that is required to fulfil the requirements, not only of this customer, but also all other customers in his country, region or industry. This is a great situation where you could actively engage your customer over a period of time to seek their inputs and feedback.
In the other, you need to empathise with your customer. You try to live her life, feel what they feel, without actually asking them about their feelings or feedback. You become the customer.
A classic example that comes to mind is a story I heard about the designer of the first true full functional PDA, the Palm Pilot. It is said that before the design of the pilot, the designer actually carried a block of wood in his pocket everyday for a long period. He imagined this block of wood to be a PDA and would take it out whenever he had a use for the PDA, imagine how he would use the PDA and out it back. By doing this, he got 1st hand feedback on the key aspects of his product, like the ideal size of the PDA or the functionalities that it needed and which one of these would be needed the most.
Now the most critical question is to know when to engage and when to empathise.
How do you bring your customers feedback into your organisation? Are your customers willing to spend time with you to help you improve your products or services willingly or with restraint? Have you trie empathising by role playing as your customer? What were the results?
Let us know by writing a comment below or by tweeting your thoughts to me at @rmukeshgupta.