Andrea Belk Olson Andrea Belk Olson

Is your customer feedback used to diagnose or sell?

You walk into your general practitioner’s office. You have some pain in your knee lingering for a while from an old sports injury, and it’s starting to cause concern. When the doctor comes in, she doesn’t start by asking questions about your condition. Instead, she hands you a short survey with some broad questions – including things like, “When it comes to selecting a heart medicine, what do you look for?” Then, she says that as an expert, you must have heart disease and writes you a prescription for her own product.

This would be an incredibly frustrating and worrisome experience. Why did the doctor not take the time to listen to me? Why did they not want to understand my specific concerns? Why did they presume a wholly separate issue? Even worse, you know you don’t have heart disease and feel you were sold a solution for an issue you didn’t have.

It sounds ridiculous. You’d likely never want to see that doctor again. However, businesses exhibit this behavior all the time. Consider how many companies conduct customer outreach through surveys to gather information that is not used to diagnose, but rather gather insights to more effectively sell what they offer. Consider how many companies approach potential clients with a solution without truly understanding the customer’s problems.

Why don’t companies take more time to truly understand customer needs? In short, because it’s hard, it takes time, and sometimes, we don’t want to hear what they have to say. Customer feedback isn’t simply about capturing data from questionnaires, reporting the top three frustrations customers have, and then deciding which one is the least costly and painful to implement. It’s also not rolling your eyes when you hear the same concerns over and over again.

The hidden opportunity with customer feedback is if you take the time to have qualitative conversations with customers and observe them in the context of their challenge, you can uncover new opportunities to grow, differentiate, and innovate that your competitors don’t see. If your competitors are doing the same surveys and taking the same generic approaches to customer feedback as you, they are gathering the same insights and information. This isn’t leverage, it’s box-checking.

Think about some of the greatest companies you admire and the products and services they’ve produced. Every one of them began with a founder or inventor who saw a problem that wasn’t addressed, overlooked, or not considered by other companies. They saw past the superficial insights and focused on the small, nuanced, subtle things. They understood how their competitors operated and thought, and saw an opportunity. This takes honest thought, observation, reflection, and validation of our assumptions.

As leaders, we want our companies to grow. We ask our teams for feedback and ideas. We want to find the next innovation that will catapult our organization to the next level. But if no one in the organization is out there genuinely examining customers’ needs, fears, and frustrations, but rather simply listening to sell, you’ll get the same thing you’ve always got – another missed opportunity to create a unique competitive advantage.

About the Author

Andrea Belk Olson is a keynote speaker, author, differentiation strategist, behavioral scientist, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of three books, including her most recent, What To Ask: How To Learn What Customers Need but Don’t Tell You, released in June 2022.

She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been continually featured in news sources such as Chief Executive Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Harvard Business Review, Rotman Magazine, World Economic Forum, and more. Andrea is a sought-after speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer and startup coach at the University of Iowa, a TEDx presenter, and TEDx speaker coach. She is also an instructor at the University of Iowa Venture School.