The listening-to-customers wake up call

Looking back through the classic management texts I realize the call to listen to customers isn’t new. Here’s a few that counsel an emphasis on customers:

  • Innovation in Marketing (1962)
  • In Search of Excellence (1982)
  • Moments of Truth (1987)
  • Relationship Marketing (1991)
  • The Experience Economy (1999)

The repetition of this message isn’t surprising as it’s easy to walk around a modern corporation and meet plenty of people who should be familiar with their customers but aren’t. My little wake up call consists of asking, “How many of your customers have you met?” even when I know the answer is “none.”


  1. You are absolutely right! The discussion of maintaining quality client relations has been there for a while – you could probably trace it all the way back to the inception of the industrial age.

    Is your feeling that technology now facilitates the discovery of customer interests quicker and more efficiently than ever in history or would you say technology is becoming a hindrance to truly connecting directly to the customer and examining their wants and needs?

  2. Good question Daniel. It goes both ways. I’ve seen people use faster computers and more sophisticated software to do amazing quantitative analysis, and I’ve seen people sell simple statistical software as if it were a silver bullet to replace all qualitative research.

  3. In order to design new products, I don’t think anything beats getting to understand the customer’s experiences. I believe most customers are stuck with mental models driving them toward improved versions of familiar technology. They fail to see the value of something that challenges the status quo. I believe corporations hide behind technology and qualitative market research to avoid taking the risks break thru products require.

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