November/December 2013
Executive Corner

Remember the customer

By Jon Olson

How many times have you decided to stop working with a company because you thought it was not listening to you? Perhaps you have switched your bank, Internet service, or cell phone provider, because you found it impossible to reach someone who seemed even slightly interested in solving your problem.

You are not alone. Research shows that 68 percent of customers stop working with a company due to treatment they received or perceived indifference. Only 9 percent leave due to competitive reasons.

Today we have great communications and collaboration tools that enable us to make a technical connection almost immediately; we can communicate more quickly across greater distances than at any other point in human history. However, we need to remember that all manufacturing, and other types of business, are primarily driven by people and relationships. Maintaining a personal touch with our customers is what really matters.

Our number one mission must be to help our customers accomplish what they have hired us to do-make their jobs easier and their operations more efficient. Period. Those who ignore this do so at the risk of losing business.

When was the last time you had a meaningful, productive discussion with one of your customers? One that resulted in a real path forward to solve a problem, or better yet, looked ahead to the customer's short- and long-term goals? One that discussed different options to reach these-and the expectations you both have from your working relationship? All too often, conversations with our customers are initiated as a reaction to an immediate problem or issue, rather than as a collaborative step forward. It is too easy to hide behind the ability to "communicate" quickly. Just because you can reach your customer immediately using today's technology, does not mean that you have really connected.

What can we do to improve how we work together and what we deliver, ensuring we develop the products and services that will help our customers use the latest technologies to make their processes more efficient, and their companies more competitive?

It takes a commitment to focus on the people behind the business relationship-and to learn what they need to be successful in their jobs and in the marketplace. It involves taking the time to know the individuals whom you are working with and understand their day-to-day challenges. What is keeping them up at night, and why? What is their "wish list" of solutions that would make their jobs easier? How can you help?

When you actively engage your customers and learn about their challenges, you can anticipate what they will need. This is achieved by building a relationship with your customers, investing time in a two-way dialogue, and really listening to what they say.

A lot of this seems to be common sense, but as we hurry to meet our deadlines, and just quickly touch base with our smart phones or tablets to "close the loop," how many times do we pause and really hear what our customers are telling us? Electronic message exchanges are fine for a quick status update or question, but it is difficult to get to the heart of any problem with electronic communication alone. You can accomplish far more over a cup of coffee, lunch, or even a phone conversation than you can with countless emails or text messages, many of which may not be read.

That is because people are what drive business, and the communication methods are only an effective enabler if you have established a sound relationship first. We need to remember that decisions to proceed with a project, implement a new technology, expand a business, or stay with or switch vendors, are all made by people, and not faceless entities.

As we all rush forward to develop and find new ways to leverage the best new technologies and solutions, we need to keep our focus on the people whom we are creating these for. What tools do they need, and what support do they need from us? How can we deliver these more effectively? How can we make their work environment more efficient, safe, and productive, and their jobs more rewarding? Are we listening to their input and looking ahead to what they will need next?

The time spent to listen and learn about your customers' daily challenges, short- and long-term goals, and priorities will be one of the best investments you can ever make for your business.


Jon OlsonJon Olson is North America region division manager, process automation, for ABB Inc. The division develops, produces, sells, delivers, and services products and solutions to enable industrial and energy customers to operate more efficiently and profitably. Before his current role, he served as the division manager, process automation, for ABB in Australia.