All comments posted on this blog do not reflect the opinions of any organization that I am affiliated with. These are my personal perspectives only.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

How to benefit from "Not Listenting to the Customer".

Seth Godin recently posted an article called "Making Your Customers Uncomfortable" in which he explains the upside of making your customers uncomfortable. As proof points, he uses examples of Black Friday and Southwest Airlines.

It reminded me of Betty Crocker & General Mill's story about how they had "invented" a scientific marvel that allowed homemakers to create great tasting cakes in a fraction of the time. The invention... "Cake Mix". Just add water, mix and bake!

After all, don't consumers want ease and simplicity? Then why didn't it sell originally? Perhaps the quality wasn't good. Well, according to their market research, the quality (taste) of the cakes in blind studies rated very highly in comparison to cakes made from scratch. So what seems to be the problem? Foodtimeline provides this piece of information..

"General Mills considered the market research of the business psychologists Dr. Burleigh Gardner and Dr. Ernest Dichter to explain the mediocre sales of cake mixes. The problem, according to the psychologists, was eggs. Dichter, in particular, believed that powdered eggs, often used in cake mixes, should be left out, so women could add a few fresh eggs into the batter, giving them a sense of creative contribution. He believed...that baking a cake was an act of love on the woman's part; a cake mix that only needed water cheapened that love. Whether the psychologists were right, or whether cakes made with fresh eggs simply taste better than cakes made with dried eggs, General Mills decided to play up the fact that Betty Crocker's cake mixes did not contain...dried eggs of any kind...Before long, cake mix started to gain some acceptance and notoriety."

Interesting how forcing the customer to do more work, so they have to add eggs to the mix resulted in greater sales.

I also met with a gentlemen from Synectics, an innovation organization that has consulted with Starbucks. They had explained that when asking consumers what they wanted from Starbucks, they would get the responses, "Faster Service, Lower Costs, Higher Quality". The standard responses... So why is that we still wait in line at Starbucks and pay high prices? Have they not been able to figure it out?

Well, according to Synectics, the real thing customers wanted were moments of indulgence.

If Starbucks took customer responses at face value and sped the line up or lowered their costs, they would have reduced the already short "moment" and cheapened the "indulgence". Understanding deeper has provided Starbucks their winning formula.

Perhaps the title for this post is a little misleading... Perhaps the real title should have been, "How to really listen to the customer beyond what they say and achieve the results even at their 'discomfort'. In any case, think twice before assuming "the customer is always right".


Charles Karam said...


I'm perfectly fine with this theory but the question I have for you is how do you apply this approach to our Bell world Or even internally within our department while serving our internal customers?

Rex Lee said...

Well, as this is a public enviornment I can not comment on "Bell". In general however, it's the ability to ask the right questions, and creative questions and to ask enough of them is they key. As a starting point, consider the "5 Why's technique" (asking why over and over again to the initial repsonses) to what ever you are trying to achieve. Needs based segmentation, is also very helpful. Suggest you read Christensen's work on needs segmentation. Also, rather then listening to your customer, try observing your customer. Not just what they have to say, but what they actually do.