Friday, January 18, 2008

Listening to Customers

A friend of mine’s employer was losing market-share and decided to call together its best customers to find out what it was doing well and where it could improve. While this may be a worthwhile endeavor on some level, it reminded me of the story about damage to B-17 bombers in World War II.

The B-17 had been the primary bomber for the war in Europe until the B-24 came along. The key difference between the two aircraft, was that the newer B-24 had armored plates installed to protect the plane and crew from enemy fire. While the B-17 was liked by pilots, they preferred the increased safety of the armor. To fix this, the army decided to add armor to the B-17.

Whenever a damaged bomber came back from a mission it was towed into a hangar and analyzed by a crew of aeronautical engineering experts to figure out the best ways to add armor anyplace the plane took a hit. This went on for several weeks until one day an army mechanic came up and inquired what they were doing. They explained their work, and he tactfully said, “Well that sounds pretty stupid to me.”
“Why do you say that?” They enquired.
“Well you’re looking at the wrong planes. The biggest risk to planes and crews is that a hit makes the plane crash. The planes you’re studying, fly fine with those holes.”

Similarly, if you want to regain market-share, don’t ask customers who are satisfied, ask customers who leave, or people who should be customers but aren’t.
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