Are You Really Listening to Your Customers?

I recently hung out with a Project Manager from Amazon, and it was as insightful as you might imagine.

Anytime I get an opportunity to hang out with someone from Amazon, I have lots of questions. I’m sure we all would. Like many of you, the company’s growth astounds me. With product after product, they have provided an insane amount of value for their clients, which has led to an insane amount of cash flow.

This time, though, my questions mostly revolved around one specific thing:

As large as they are, how does a company like Amazon continue to find products that the public finds valuable?

His initial answer was short, simple, and so easy to understand. He told me that they constantly ask their clients, “What problems are you dealing with today?”

Now, we’ve all heard this before. If you use NPS scores or any other sort of customer survey, this is what you’re doing. You’re listening to your current clients.

But, as I was talking with this Project Manager, what began to emerge was something different than Amazon just listening to their customers. They’re actually listening to their customers’ current needs and understanding how Amazon’s current products serve those needs. But, and more importantly, they’re intimately listening to what products customers need that have nothing to do with what Amazon is offering today.

Why? Because they want to solve those needs, as well.

This isn’t monumental advice. But, if we’re honest with one another, so few of us are actually thinking about the needs of our clients outside of what we’re currently offering to them. We deeply care about our current products and current solutions for them, but we’re not getting in front of their future needs.

So I think we can all take a page out of Amazon’s book.

Asking the Right Question

Our team just kicked off annual planning. I would say that we do a pretty good job of this for a team of our size. Actually, we might spend a bit too much time in annual planning, but that’s a topic for another day.

In previous years, we spent most of our time asking two questions when considering what we should be doing the following year:

  1. What activities can we do that would best help us fulfill our mission to give startups the power to create and grow their businesses, wherever they call home?
  2. And, what activities are we the best at doing?

Now, those are two very good questions and questions I hope we never stop asking ourselves.

But, for the first time, I realized this year that we’ve never done something that Amazon is so good at doing.

We’ve never asked the simple question, “What problems are you (our customers) dealing with today?”

Asking it is completely changing our planning this time around. So far, we’ve spent most of our time actually thinking through and ranking the problems our customers have, and it has made planning so much more interesting. Something unexpected has happened—we’re actually not focusing on ourselves.

A Reorientation

In the past, everything was about us. What we could do to fulfill our mission and what activities we were best in the world at.

But in framing our planning for 2019 with this new question, a question about our customers, we’re first asking ourselves what our clients want—the people we care most about. The focus isn’t on what we want to do or what we can do well. Instead, our focus is on everyone else.

So, once we heard all of the feedback and listened to the problems that our clients most need to be solved, we ranked which methods we believe will best solve those problems. It wasn’t a ranking of what we are best at or what we can do well; it was truly a list of what would best solve their problems, whether we currently have the best resources to deliver on those solutions or not. We simply wanted to come up with how our clients would best be supported.

Once we’d done that, we then went back to our two initial questions and made sure that our proposed solutions still aligned with our mission. If they didn’t, we took them off of our list. As much as we want to meet all of our customers’ needs, we still want to remain in integrity with our core purpose in the world—an essential element of remaining true to our brand.

Finally, An Extra Push to the Team

Coming back to Amazon, they also forego a lot of annual planning that you and I typically do. Why? Because customer needs change more rapidly than you can plan for once every 12 months. What’s more, the second that anyone on their team sniffs out that there’s a potential problem they can solve, anyone at Amazon can email Jeff Bezos directly.

Awesome.

Jeff Bezos isn’t waiting on some magic annual planning meeting to come up with their suite of products for the following year. He wants to solve customer’s problems now.

And that’s where I want to leave us this year. As we wrap up our planning for 2019, my push to the team is that, if anyone hears an issue from a customer that feels more important for us to solve than what we’re currently doing—at any time—we need to stop (or slow down) something else in order to solve that issue first.

Why? Because it’s the right thing for our customers. And, in the long-run, it will be the right thing for GAN.