Abundant Optimism

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Involve Customers When Making Changes

By Tamara Martfeld

It is important to involve your customers when making changes. When customers are not involved, changes you make that you think might be for the better may backfire and possibly lose you customers who have other options. For example, how many times has Microsoft made a change to their system and caused you extra work or frustration as a result? For me, the answer is every time they come out with an “improved” product. There are many things in the original product that I wish were still available, and many “features” of the current product which do nothing but cause me extra work.

When the customer is external, involving them might be through really listening to the feedback of the existing products, surveys, or accessing forums where your customers critique or discuss your product. Especially listen to the negative feedback while acknowledging the positive feedback. A local store had a program where they sent you their products to try. You received points for feedback, or so they said. Some feedback was posted to their website. Over the course of the program it became evident that they only wanted positive feedback. I know of several people who posted negative feedback, but it was never posted to the web site. Additionally, negative feedback was frequently rejected for receiving points for unknown reasons. This store set up a valuable tool and did not use it. They could have used the negative and constructive feedback to improve the products. Instead, they played games with their customers. I know some who eventually received the product and then gave positive feedback just to get the points without ever trying the product.

When customers are internal, involving them can include the items used with the external customer. However, a more effective way to involve them is by including them in the process. If procedures are being changed, ask them how it may affect them and listen to the answers. If it will be a big negative, perhaps the procedures should not be changed. Including the customer in the process will also help towards acceptance of any changes. I am aware of a recent change in procedures which has proven highly negative. A process was transferred from one group to another. The group which got the process made immediate changes without involving anyone and truly understanding the process, who it affects, and the ramifications of the job not being done correctly. By done correctly, I am referring to the end result and not the process to obtain that end result. None of the customers were involved in any of the discussions. The result is that customers are not getting information timely, incorrect information is being distributed, and the external customers are being negatively affected. Additionally, this group is now being seen as incompetent and bull-headed. No one wants to work with this group, and some of the people in the group have lost the respect of others. Quite a price for ignoring the customer.

Making the effort to involve your customers whenever possible will result in better customer relations at every level. Listening to the customer can result in better products and/or services and can bring in new customers, increasing profits. The better products and/or services may also have a nice side effect of being more efficient with the associated increase in profits through savings. In the case of a non-profit or government business, it can lead to being able to get more done in the available time with limited resources.

In short, involving your customer has many benefits and ignoring them can be costly. Make the effort and reap the benefits.