Listen to customers. But don’t feel you have to do what they say…..

“Do your customers agree with what you are proposing?” was one of the questions our Board asked me this week.

My response went something like this:

“I don’t know. We’ve listened to what they have told us. We’ve observed how they find things difficult to use. And then we’ve tried to create something they will like better”

I had just admitted that we’d come up with a proposition based upon what we thought customers would like rather than what they said they actually wanted.

Only a few years ago – saying that you ignored what customers said they wanted could have seen you tried as a Witch. A Heretic.

“He said what? Customers don’t always have the answers? Clearly we have before us a man of unsound mind.”

Fact is – listening to customers can lead to you delivering more of the same. Rather than creating something different.

The darkest days of the Audit Commission, and the dreaded Key Lines of Enquiry, nearly killed any innovation in the sector in which I work.

Hours were spent justifying how customers had played a part in every level of decision making.

Days on end were spent filling in a 50 page Gap Analysis, and poring over a 150 page booklet on supposed Best Practice.

Centuries from now our descendants will study the indecipherable jargon in these papers, imagining them to hold untold secrets of life in the early 21st Century.

In reality it will tell them nothing – except we were all a bit stupid really.

I remember one of my colleagues literally locking themselves away in an office for 8 hours – desperately writing a 40 page continuous improvement action plan. That’s the UK Housing equivalent of waterboarding .

Equally ridiculous was a conversation I once had with a housing “expert” :

Expert: Why have you chosen not to compare your performance to other housing providers?

Me: Well – very few of our tenants have experienced services from another housing association. So its better we compare our performance with other companies they might use – like Sky or Tesco.

Expert: And your customers told you they wanted this done?

Me: Well, not directly.

Expert: Then you don’t really act on what customers have said at all. And there is no clear link back to your strategic plan. I can’t see that this activity is planned or that a proper risk assessment has taken place.

Me: Oh, just [expletives deleted]…… (NB: this bit appeared as a thought rather than in the conversation itself)

Customers don’t always know what they want. They sometimes need to be shown a better alternative to what they currently have.

Technology and Social media gives us previously unimaginable opportunities to collaborate with customers in the gestation of these alternatives.

So let’s use the new tools we now have.

Let us be bold and use it to make changes for the people we let down by wasting time and money.

Let us move on from the people who told us we had to serve up more of the same. That we had to document, action plan and risk assess every idea we had.

But let us not forget.

It was a dark period in our history.

We must never let it happen again. Our customers deserve much better.


7 thoughts on “Listen to customers. But don’t feel you have to do what they say…..

  1. A great read, Paul. It does make you question what we do and why do it. Just because that’s how it’s always been done doesn’t make it right. Only yesterday I received my postcard from our ?WhatIf! session which stated:

    “Take myself into a new environment, think of a new idea and remember – no bad idea ever hurt anyone”

    I guess what I’m saying here is we must challenge ourselves, try something different and don’t be afraid to take ourselves out of our comfort zone.

    1. Thanks Andy – ” no bad idea ever hurt anyone” – that’s exactly it. Regulation is needed and poor organisations need to be brought up to scratch. But you can’t set rules around innovation.

  2. Having involved myself as a Customer for several years, I felt that my contributions were valued, but never expected that they would make a great deal of difference to the lives of my fellow Tenants on major issues. This is because Bromford is not a Social Club, or a mini-democracy, it is a Business, and has, therefore, to make sound financial decisions if it wishes to succeed., particularly when it comes to keeping Regulators sweet! This being so, I doubt that we will be getting our Hot Tub and Sauna any day soon! – however, we have been able to push at improving Customer Choice in areas where,for example, the style of kitchen surfaces ,or external paint colours can be offered without any additional costs to the Company.

    Perhaps, though, things are changing.! – The demise of the Housing Corp/TSA, and the Audit Commission and its “champagne lifestyle”, and the arrival of self-regulation and the New Deal, have opened up a whole range of opportunities for real change for those brave enough to accept the challenge. I’m sure that Andy will tell us that his present brief with the Home Rewards Club gives him the opportunity to lead a ground-breaking development in Social
    Housing. Whether the Idea itself is fundamentally a good one, only time will tell, of course,but I am happy to confirm that it was fully supported by CIG. so he is in great company , whatever the outcome. So if I may take the liberty of adding to Andy’s excellent
    “No bad idea ever hurt anyone” , the person who never made a mistake never made anything.

    Wish my time machine would take me back to Michelangelo’s studio. Bet his waste bin was full up of torn up canvas.

  3. Great comments Mike – as usual. Interesting view from you as a customer as well that the ease back from prescriptive regulation has given new opportunities.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Mike. I’m relishing the challenge and opportunities that Home Rewards Club is presenting and indeed, we don’t know for sure what the future of this project will bring or where it will lead, but we will continue to explore the way in which we deliver our services.

      Thanks to both you and all in CIG for your support, its great that we have the views of our customers close at hand, and heart.

  4. P.s. Mike, I love this comment:

    “Wish my time machine would take me back to Michelangelo’s studio. Bet his waste bin was full up of torn up canvas.”

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