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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Watch what customers do: Schank

Are customers really aware of what they want and should businesses be listening to them at all? CEO, Socratic Arts, Roger Schank told CNBC that this managment concept is overhyped far too much. He feels people are so confused about what they want in a girlfriend, or what kind of home they want or even what they want from their life, why would they be so clear about other things! He emphasizes, "Don't listen to what your customers say, watch what they do. See what they do in real life. Observation is everything.

He adds, "Experiences are about learning and people love to learn because they are growing and changing. Customers don't know what they need. It's important to know what the real issues are and asking your customer may not be the right way to do it."

People didn't know they needed a cellphone or a computer, but now it's part of everyone's lives. This goes for all the gadgets that today makes our lives so much simpler (or complicated, as some people believe). So, asking a person 20 years ago, if he wanted a PC would have led to a simple "No" or "What for?" But the PC is here today. The thing is to ask new questions or put questions in a different manner, so you get different answers.

CEO, Moen, Richard Posey is heading a company that produces fashionable plumbing products. From the ultra-sleek faucets to shower heads..Moen's got all that and more. His is such a research focused company that he admist to watching people shower or generally use their products, so that they can get some good feedback!

He says, "We use this information and see how people interact with our products, and use this insight to develop our products. But we look at other information - our own knowledge of the market, our own instincts and then say, this is what we should do."

But CEO & Founder, SKS Microfinance, Vikrum Akula agrees with Schank and says, that even he finds that people don't say actually say what they want. Though CEO ebay, Meg Whitman, says that a lot of ebay customers tend to be entrepreneurs thenselves and ebay keeps an eye on them. (Read a complete profile on him here: Shahrukh Khan portrayed him in Swades)

For instance in 1999, her colleagues suddenly noticed a lot of demand for die-cast car models and brought it to her notice. Then suddenly, real cars soon started listing. And now ebay Motors is the biggest revenue earner for ebay.

Schank feels ebay is still evolving, so no one knows where it's headed, while Moen, is in the business of showerheads, which have been around for a long while now. So, what is new, that is going to come out from this company...that is something, that is not going to come from customers.

Grameen Gives!

The Grameen Bank is a co-operative bank which is an example of what one man's vision can accomplish. Mohammed Yunus is the only economist to have won a Nobel Peace prize but then he deserves it for the immense social responsibility movement, he has single-handedly started in Bangladesh. He saw that pithy economic concepts were not making a difference in the lives of his poor countrymen What they wanted was hard cash to tide them over. So, he started handing money out from his own pocket to people to start their own businesses and this included women entrepreneurs as well.

Women are considered by most banks as being high risk borrowers, so they didn't loan money to them. But Yunus's own experience is that women make for better borrowers, as they have consistently repaid Grameen Bank. Also, he knows that money in a woman's hand is channeled into her household, and more importantly, her children's education and future.

So, in making a difference in so many people's lives, Yunus has a social revolution in the making that will, hopefully, lift his countrymen out of the clutches of stark poverty. Yunus admits that in the future he wants Grameen Bank to be known as the 'bank of the former poor.'

This is his dream for Bangladesh but it's a dream that Vikram Akula also has for poor Indian women, who struggle for a living in rural India as well. Well, more power to such social entrepreneurs!

Posey did see what his customers wanted and came out with a line of safety, bath products. So, his company designed a shower seat for elderly or injured people, where the soap, the wash cloth were easily handy and the hand shower could also be kept where it could be reached easily.

So, his company does watch customers...literally! And, the fact is that customers can not be discounted completely and there are some customers who are trendsetters and they should be observed to see how soon they are copied by the mainstream.

This is happening more quickly than ever because of the smaller time lag involved and also because of the new media like the internet, which is making trends available to a larger audience, much sooner.

Written for moneycontrol.com

Read more stories here:
Innovating to stay in the fast lane

Do you have to fail to innovate

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