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Curiosity kills the cat—but wins the customer

Kathleen Quinn Votaw //November 30, 2010//

Curiosity kills the cat—but wins the customer

Kathleen Quinn Votaw //November 30, 2010//

If you’re searching online for a blind date, you can narrow the field demographically to, let’s say, people between age 35 and 45 who live in Denver. And you can take a peek at the all-important photograph. But is that enough information to make even one valid assumption about someone?

Before you commit to that blind date, you’ll want to know what kind of personality they have and what their interests and values are, among other things. That same kind of curiosity about your customers gives you a deep understanding of what they need or want-and serves as the basis for a passionate long-term relationship.

It may be time to add intellectual curiosity to the competencies you require in your sales, marketing and customer service staff, and embed curiosity in your company culture.

Woeful disconnection with customers

Consider this. In a recent Forbes article, Andrea Ayers tells us that most company executives believe they have a solid understanding of their customers’ expectations and experiences, when the truth is that they have no idea what their customers want and are “woefully disconnected” from them. Almost half of customers say that executives not only don’t understand their needs, but don’t care about them. The consequence? On average, more than half of these customers will defect, and they won’t ever tell the company why.

Sadly, as their customers are leaving, company executives mistakenly believe everything is fine because they aren’t hearing anything about the problems. “This is the silent but deadly company killer,” says Ayers. Have you thought about what your level of customer understanding is, really is? What messages are you sending to your staff? Are you encouraging your customer-facing employees to develop an intense intellectual curiosity about what your customers want, why they leave and what their experience is with every aspect of your company?

Refocusing our focus

We’re born with a natural curiosity that often gets lost in our data-driven business world. Focus and specialization replace exploration in so many cases. It may seem counterintuitive, but excellence may be less about a concentration on one thing, and more about pursuing multiple interests and talents that allow you to unconsciously transfer skills from one task to another. Think Leonardo DaVinci.

Researchers are finding that your brain not only shapes your behavior, but your behavior shapes your brain, reports Fortune. “Cross-training” your brain can make you better at any one of your pursuits. So, how does this relate to business and customers? Maybe all of us would benefit by backing away somewhat from a focus on focusing and let our natural intellectual curiosity drive customer knowledge and experience, which in turn would foster innovation in product development and, ultimately, bring in more revenue.

Inside-out versus outside-in

The typical company, which manages from an inside-out approach that’s intended to maximize internal efficiencies, is not fostering curiosity. Instead of soliciting feedback from the market and using it to improve their customers’ experience, inside-out companies have doomed themselves to making the same customer mistakes again and again. With an outside-in approach, it’s customer opinions and preferences that feed internal efficiencies. That feedback should come in from various channels, including customer-facing employees who are encouraged and rewarded for their curiosity about customers.

Because one-size-fits-all service rarely applies in today’s markets, companies need to determine how they can serve both ends of the spectrum, or whether it even makes economic sense to do so. When you take the “silent customer attrition” factor into account, understanding individual customer needs becomes even more important, because unhappy customers can poison your brand and reputation among prospective customers before you get a chance to touch them. Better to make a considered decision not to serve certain markets than to serve them poorly. An outward focus gives you the deep customer understanding you need to make the competitive decisions that can make or break your company.

Igniting curiosity

Creating a culture where people are curious about customers, the market, technology, and the world around them starts with hiring people who demonstrate intellectual curiosity, and then recognizing and rewarding them. Leaders who show their own intellectual curiosity, and resist excessive rules, encourage the freedom to explore. The result is innovation, opportunity and a passion for understanding customers.
Few businesses have a formal system for measuring the wants, needs and satisfaction of their customers. Rather than collecting customer information piecemeal from sales, marketing and customer service departments, igniting a culture of curiosity draws information from every area of the business that can be the seeds of better products and customer service.
That natural curiosity that got you into so much trouble as a kid, and may have killed the cat, can create the most satisfied customers your business has ever had.
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