Today’s  “Theory and Practice” column in The Wall Street Journal was about the shelf life of CEOs’ “hunker down” strategies. It seems that the Great Recession inspired some leaders to innovate and seek customer or employee input. One example was Regus, PLC, a company that introduced several new pricing packages for its outsourced office space. The company held focus groups and discovered they were not providing the range of pricing and options desired by its customer base. Before the Great Recession, the company didn’t “bother” to seek customer insights very often. The customer-driven pricing models and packages not only were a success in winning back existing clients, but Regus also opened whole new markets.

Another example was Duke Energy who turned to their employee base for ideas on how to save an aggregate $100 million. The company met its goal and issued bigger bonuses, based on the economies achieved

The executives interviewed for the column claimed that these initiatives would survive past the economic downturn. To me, this is like seeking salvation on your death bed after ignoring your family for decades, and then living past Extreme Unction. While the death bed heroics may force the person to behave differently, imagine how much richer the repentant’s life would have been had s/he  practiced a few basic principles like listening, engaging with others and building meaningful relationships before they thought they were going to die!

All of us have experiences with companies every day that leave us stunned and wondering why we are not listened to and treated better. Just yesterday, I tried to print out a boarding pass from home. I had used miles to upgrade and owed a stipend for the privilege. Although I have a current credit card on file with the airline, and have been a member of their loyalty program since its inception, I was not allowed to pay online. Even though it clearly said on “my Itinerary” at the site that I was cleared for online check-in.  A call to the airline got this response, “Oh yeah, we get complaints about this all the time. Just go to the kiosk at the airport and use your credit card there.” As it was, I had to get up at 3:00 a.m. to make my flight and wanted to avoid any extra steps when I got there. But, no dice. It didn’t seem to matter to the airline that I was one of their “best customers”.

Obviously, I can only use miles to upgrade if I fly your airline a lot, which means I have an opinion about your products and services. Yet you have never asked me anything. Hello, are you listening? A whole bunch of your best customers have complained about the exact same thing. What are you doing to correct this, or at the very least “message” your online check-in process differently.

Maybe this airline will get religion on its deathbed. In the meantime, lots of smart companies are using both traditional and social channels for seeking customer insights. The really smart ones are acting on what they hear and engaging in real, meaningful conversations. It should not take a Great Recession for a company to decide to get ideas and feedback from customers, employees and other stakeholders. And, this behavior should not be rewarded as “innovation” by one of the most respected business papers around.

 

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Kathy Baughman
Kathy Baughman

Kathy’s forte is enterprise content strategy, content marketing and thought leadership. Over the past 40 years, she has worked with both emerging brands and large enterprises in developing content and thought leadership strategies. She has written several research reports, white papers and has been a key contributor to Forbes Publish or Perish Report.