Those Pesky Customers by Emily R. Coleman, Ph.D

We all know them:

  • Those unreasonable people who don’t understand business efficiencies and want to talk to a live representative.  And worse, a live representative who actually can speak their language.
  • Those people who don’t grasp the concept of “try, try again,” and immediately call for technical support or complain about the product.
  • Those delusional types who think executives have nothing better to do with their day than solve customer problems.

Doing business would be so much easier if we didn’t have to deal with customers.

Okay, okay.  This is obviously an exaggeration.  Unfortunately, however, not by that much.  Even today, with a down economy, with a rapacious competitive environment, and with buyers who can go elsewhere, customers are seen as a group to be measured and managed.

I recently read a fun article on the subject by Greg Harris.

His position is that “the customer’s voice can serve as a company’s guiding light and everyone on [our] management team makes talking to customers a high priority.”

I’m all for “customer engagement” and matrices to measure it.  I’m all for customer satisfaction studies so you can see where problems lie.  I’m all for “this call may be monitored” to see how employees handle customers.

But mostly I’m for the fact that marketing is about communicating with customers, users, and prospects.  And the best way to do that is to talk to them – and with them – and get to know what actually makes them tick (as opposed to what we think makes them tick).

Therefore, allow me to propose something revolutionary:

Let’s put aside our assigned roles, our job-defined turfs, and our egos.  Let’s agree that no one can claim to be a marketing professional without spending a portion of our day – or our week, or our month – without actually talking to real customers, users, and prospects.  Let’s go out on real-world sales calls.  Let’s spend some time taking the calls customer support reps routinely handle.

Let’s get beyond the numbers.

Keep the matrices.  Keep the market research.  Keep the technologies that, hopefully, make us more efficient.  But as we create our strategies, our tactics, our messages, wouldn’t it be useful to have some personal, gut-level, insight into the people we are trying to reach?

About Emily R. Coleman

Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing Inc, a marketing firm that specializes in taking small, medium, and large companies to the next level by helping them develop and deepen their competitive edge in the marketplace. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 100 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman’s expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding. Dr. Coleman can be reached at    At LinkedIn:  On Facebook:  At Twitter:


About Vele Galovski
Vele Galovski has consistently achieved breakthrough results by using his unique approach to innovation engineering. By combining ambitious goal-setting with key driver analysis, disciplined management of metrics, and an inspiring approach to employee engagement and empowerment, Vele has dramatically improved the performance of a high-volume manufacturing operation, a national financial services company, a leading provider of professional outsourcing services, and one of the top home-builders in the country. He is currently working on a book to describe his methodology and help others achieve exceptional results with the same basic process employed by the world’s greatest engineers. You set a daring goal. Then you engineer a way to get there.

2 Responses to Those Pesky Customers by Emily R. Coleman, Ph.D

  1. Thanks for posting! This is great stuff!!!

    It seems like it is common accepted business practice for the lazy/unambitious to hide behind a title to shirk responsibility. You really have to applaud companies like Gore Industries and their ‘flat lattice organization’. They boast “no traditional organizational charts, no chains of command, nor predetermined channels of communication” and call every one of their employees “Associate” (no job-specific titles).

    It’s sad that it is hard to imagine not having employees able to rely on the “It’s not my job” excuse, and to have co-workers from all throughout the company reaching out to customers and experiencing the customer service, design, and manufacturing roles all at once.

    I hope you’re able to spark some inspiration in some folks who can make a difference and put this into practice!

    • Thank you for your comment! When I first read Emily’s post, it reminded me of my time at Xerox. I was running a manufacturing facility and I personally had to call warranty return cards every month. At first I was petrified – “I just make the stuff, I can’t talk to a real customer. Especially one that is not happy with my work”. After dialing and hanging up a few times, I actually enjoyed speaking to the customers and getting feedback, it was energizing. It put a person behind the thousands of shipments every day.

      Xerox gets it share of grief in the press, but they did many things right. Requiring executives to constantly spend time in call centers, calling warranty complaints, and reaching out to key customer accounts really put the concept of “customer focus” in practice.

      About Corporateavenger:
      He is a “marketer stuck in an engineer’s body” and he writes about people who create a brand and give it life and a personality on his blog

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