Meet your customers, don’t Google them

Raghu B. Viswanath | Updated on December 27, 2012

The biggest mistake plaguing most of corporate India, and many international companies, is the distance from customer base

With signs of depression all around and foreboding predictions of gloomy days in times to come, several corporate Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) have often asked me what’s the best thing to do these days to just ‘stay afloat’.

I have resolutely maintained that the singular prescription to keep business ticking and maintaining your brand’s residual equity is to ‘roll up your sleeves’ and go ‘back to basics. Personally interact with your customers every day. In more ways than one. Because your life depends on it.

Hit the markets

The biggest mistake — in my opinion — plaguing most of corporate India (and perhaps many other international companies as well), is the sheer distancing that marketers and CEOs have developed from their customer base.

Gone are the days when young management trainees, advertising agency representatives and even the odd product engineer spent time in the market, getting his/her hands dirty, interacting with customers in the first person, understanding their wants, expectations and experience from your products and services. The onset of technology seems to have given all corporate executives the license to browse through reams of data in the virtual world, all in the garb of ‘consumer understanding’.

Primary research and field sales visits have been conveniently replaced by secondary data browsing and analytics. Today’s youngsters in marketing even choose their job and employer based on the number of days they may be expected to physically travel away from the air-conditioned environs of their work-station and computers.

Technology: Not the solution

Trends indicate that world-wide the amount of money companies spend in primary research has seen a modest growth of 0.4 per cent in the last three years compared to 14 per cent + growth seen in the customer relationship management/business analytics area.

A recent article, which made the rounds among the business strategy populace was the death of the once-famous strategy consulting firm, Michael Porter’s Monitor Group. Once touted as the hottest consulting firm, predicted to give even Boston Consulting Group (BCG) a run for their money, Monitor died an inglorious death last year. Experts have opined that the singular cause of Monitor’s downfall is that its entire consulting model was based on optimising strategy vis-à-vis competition, rather than by understanding customers!

All these indicators sadly indicate a common truth that the age old adage adorning the walls of many a dusty kirana stores, ‘THE CUSTOMER IS KING’, is all but forgotten. That marketers and CEOs seem to believe that ‘smart’ decisions can be taken in the comfortable atmosphere of plush boardrooms using straight-jacketed consultants and analysts, who cleverly spew out charts and graphs and dazzle you with analytical tools using modern technology.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. It is my sincere belief that technology is no doubt important. But it is merely a means of documenting that most vital statistic — knowledge of the body, mind and and soul of your customer. And that knowledge will come only by interacting with the customer face-toface.

(The writer is the Managing Director of Vertebrand Management Consulting.)

Published on December 27, 2012

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