I started my career as a banker during a rapid period of deregulation.  Banks weren’t sure what to do.  Regulators were making up the new rules and literally publishing them every Tuesday when the DIDC (Depository Institutions Deregulatory Committee) would issue the changes for the week. Seriously.

And consumers didn’t understand all that was happening but were trying to find their way. Being in marketing and product development was a challenge.  Often we found ourselves ahead of the market as we were faced with critical decisions.  It forced us to find new inputs and methods to drive effective change.  During deregulation we learned quickly that paying attention to what consumers were asking and doing gave us directional cues.  We needed to:

Listen to the customer.listen_to_the_customer

I moved from banking to the media world in the 1990’s just as the internet took off. There were no rules for this emerging opportunity and the design tools were rudimentary. Everyone was talking about a “new economy” where all the business disciplines we learned in MBA school were going out the window.  Some of it was truth. Most of it was not, as we all learned when the dot com bubble burst.  There was a big marketplace mismatch between the rapid rate of consumer adoption, business’ misunderstanding about internet opportunities (and headaches!), and overly excited investors and entrepreneurs. During this time we had to find ways to simultaneously catch up to the changes thrust upon us by early adopters while getting ready for the massive market shifts rapidly approaching.  We were forced to move quickly and make changes in real time.  In other words, we had to find new ways to:

Listen to the customer.

Today we are witnessing another industry deep in a fundamental marketplace redesign: health care.  Some of the same change challenges are present.  Consumers know changes are near and are eager to exercise their coming power. Businesses that have made health care decisions for their employees for decades are seeing opportunities to lower costs and change their involvement. Anyone working in health care is trying to figure out how to adapt to new rules and regulations while ideally serving their customers at all levels better.

Some of the best advice I’ve heard on managing your way through these kinds of seismic changes comes from a dear and brilliant friend, Jim Notarnicola.  Interviewing him for the book ROAR, he offered:
“Companies need to try to keep their focus way out to the outer-edge of customer experience.  We need to underscore being customer-driven, to get around the customer experience of the business we are already in and pay attention to what customers are telling us is coming and needed.  To be truly observant to what they are telling us.”

Yes, that’s right, he said:

Listen to the customer.

photo credit: B Rosen