September 2005

Get a little closer | Workplace

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Get a little closer

by Melody Camp
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"There is truth in the old saw that when customers ask for a drill, what they really want is holes. Delivering the right drills means asking what kind of holes they need." This great insight comes from Customer Intimacy by Fred Wiersema. It's a vivid example of the critical mission you have: Know your customers' needs.

Two hurdles

Two things conspire to weaken your understanding of customers' needs: familiarity and fire fighting. If you are similar to many roofing professionals, you have worked with your customers for a long time. Initially, you probably put a fair amount of effort into learning your customers' needs. Then, you settle into a routine. You serve a customer's needs as you first learned them, assume you understand the customer and shift to autopilot. And you know what they say about familiarity. It may not really breed contempt in your mind, but your customer may believe it does if you're not updating your understanding of him with the same attention you first gave to him.

The other conspirator is fire fighting. We're irresistibly driven to handle the hot potato in our hands and ignore the fundamental underpinnings of our long-term business goals, strengths and skills. Fire fighting turns you inward. Increasing customer intimacy turns you outward to focus on ever-evolving customers' needs. You have to balance the tension between the two by scheduling specifically planned activities, such as conducting in-depth interviews with customers and using the information to adjust your processes and educate your customers about expectations. Also, set aside time to discuss what worked well and...

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