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Who We Serve (A Customer Story)

This lesson is a part of an audio course 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell by Paul Andrew Smith

If the only customer information used in your organization comes from dry Powerpoint presentations and impersonal statistical data, you probably don’t understand your customer any better than you understand your own medical charts.

There’s just no substitute for getting out of the office and meeting your customer face-to-face. But since not everyone in the company can do that as often as they should, you, as the leader, should be telling the stories of the people who did. Especially the truly enlightened ones.

So, here’s an example. In 1993, Rohini was a new marketing manager for a brand of disposable feminine hygiene pads in India. She was on a three-day trip in Chennai doing in-home research. And her goal was to find out what was causing low-income women to buy her expensive brand of disposable pads when they had been using cheap, reusable cloth pads.

And, one of those in-home visits was in a two-room apartment with a small kitchen alcove, no TV, no refrigerator, and no air conditioning. There was a man’s shirt hanging from two nails on the other side of the door along with his pants and a towel. And on the table, under the window, was a pile of school books covered in brown paper.

Now, she described their conversation this way. “Early on in the discussion it became clear that she wasn’t using our product for herself, she was buying it for her eighth-grade daughter who’d been using a cloth. So, I asked her why she’d started spending money on it if her daughter had already become used to the cloth. And the woman replied, well, it’s because she has to go to school.

Well, what did your daughter do about school when she was using cloth?

Oh, she would go, all right, but she just felt uncomfortable, you know, couldn't concentrate. But with these pads, she doesn’t feel the wetness so she feels more comfortable and she doesn’t have to worry about staining.

But don’t you think that’s a bit expensive for you just to give your daughter a comfortable feeling every once in a while? Oh yes, it’s expensive, she said, but she needs to be able to concentrate in school to get good marks.

So Rohini asked, well, why is that important? After all, you’ll presumably just want to get her married after school, so why are good marks important? And the woman said, well, I want her to study further after school. I don’t want her to get married too early.

Well, but you, yourself got married at the age of 16. What’s wrong with that? And then the woman leaned forward in her chair and she looked Rohini right in the eyes and said, I don’t want my daughter to be like me. I want my daughter to be financially independent, to be able to be comfortable in the outside world. You know whether she marries or not will be up to her. She has to study, get good marks, go to college and then get a job. I don’t want her to have two kids by the age of 20. You know, I live my life through my children. I don’t have many aspirations for my own life now, but my daughter must be different from me. And that’s why these pads make sense.

Now, no doubt Rohini’s team wrote a proper, clinical summary of their conclusions and observations on that research trip. But the most effective vehicle she left for helping others understand the customer was the intimate portrait contained in the story about meeting that one woman in Chennai.

So, to come up with your own customer stories, do this. First, get out of the office and meet your customer face-to-face. Go on a sales call with the sales team, tag along with the research department on a customer visit, stop a shopper in the aisle at a grocery store when you see them buying your product. Whatever you have to do, make it happen. Then, when you get back, write a story about your experience and what you learned. In fact, ask other leaders about their personal experiences with consumers and customers. Somebody has a great customer story like Rohini’s. Find it and tell that story.

Okay, in the next lesson, I’ll share a classic sales story.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith