Executives Talking to Executives About What Customers Want is Ridiculous

Posted on by in Business, Customer Service, Leadership, Planning, Remarkability

In a recent Bain & Company study done on 362 companies, when asked if they (the companies) believed they delivered exceptional customer service, 80% of them responded, "Yes."  When Bain & Company asked customers about those same companies, only 8% of all customers believed they received exceptional service from them–a rather huge disconnect (80 vs. 8). So what’s behind the disconnection?  Let me explain by telling you a story.

Back in the 90’s I was at a conference for pastors at Willow Creek Community Church.  One of the guest speakers was Len Schlesinger (who’s now the Vice Chairman and COO of Limited Brands).  At the time, Len was still teaching at Harvard and one of the stories he told was about a time when he and a few of his friends decided to open up a soup and sandwich shop/restaurant (if my memory serves me correctly). 

At one point, the group of them were talking about how to make some changes to their menu when someone suggested that they offer gazpacho (a cold soup for those of you who haven’t had it yet). Their thinking was that the Harvard area was made up of highly educated people who would be interested in a more "refined" kind of soup experience.  Everyone agreed and they added gazpacho to their menu.

Unfortunately, the product launch failed miserably.  Not only did Len and company find out that Bostonians don’t like COLD soup–they especially don’t like cold soup in the WINTER.

Now, think about this.  Len and his friends were (and are) very bright people.  They knew all about customer service (it’s what Len taught and spoke about around the country).  And they had a pretty good "feel" for their customers. But despite their innate intelligence and their knowledge of customer service and their customers, they still blew it.  Why?

Len said it best himself when he said something to the effect of, "What we learned from that experience is that executives talking to other executives about what customers want is ridiculous."  I’ve never forgotten that line.  In fact, you may want to write it down someplace yourself.

How can 80% of companies think that they’re delivering exceptional service experiences to their clients when only 8% of their clients think the same?  Because executives talking to other executives about what clients want is ridiculous.  Which leads back to my teaching that we don’t get to determine what’s remarkable, our customers do.  If our customers aren’t remarking to other people about their experience with us, we’re not remarkable. Period.  End of story.

So why don’t you take this Remarkability Caffeine into one of your staff meetings this week and have a conversation about remarkability and how your company, organization or association is doing at it.  Then discuss how you’re going to actually find out from your clients/customers/members/etc. what they believe is remarkable.  All of us are prone to deception at some point.  Better to eliminate or reduce that as soon as possible.

P.S. Don’t forget to write that line down someplace. "What we learned from that experience is that executives talking to other executives about what customers want is ridiculous."

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