I’ve always worked in service businesses that had direct face-to-face contact with customers. Hence getting feedback from them – both positive and negative – was never a challenge. For instance, in a university there are all kinds of mechanisms designed to do that – both formal and informal. The formal systems included regular, frequent meetings between student representatives and Course Leaders, fully minuted Staff/Student Liaison Meetings once a semester, tutorial meetings with individual students, and end of semester surveys on every module each student had attended. Informal systems included asking for feedback at the end of each class or lecture, social interaction in corridors, cafes, and lounges, and ad hoc meetings.
In materials processing operations, such regular and routine interaction with customers is much less likely. Some manufacturers have always encouraged it. As a prospective customer, I shall never forget my tour of the Morgan Motor Co. factory in Malvern, back in the 1970s. But this was the exception rather than the rule.
Now with the advent of the internet and social media, the rules of the game have changed. Many ‘service’ companies no longer have to face-to-face contact, as their customers switch to buying online. And manufacturers can exploit social media, just as easily as service operators can.
However, maybe the real issue for all operators is not doing the listening, but acting on what you have heard. This is what struck me when reading this article on “how top companies keep their customer in focus”. It comes down to the leaders in the organisation having direct engagement with customers every day, and making decisions based on asking the simple question “what would our customers do or think if we did this?”. In other words, listening to customers is an integral part of the organisational culture.