If I Could Only Get My Technical Team to Focus on the Customer

Technical people are strong, knowledgeable, capable people who design, research, engineer, produce and support products.

They’re indispensable. Every company needs them. They are the ones who can fix a product when there’s a problem, can explain how it works and all of the features, components or properties of the product. 

Sometimes, to come up with ideas to improve the product, their focus is more on the product than on the customer’s experience.

Often they can be the people that say: "Our customers need to be managed; they don’t get it. Our distributors are like kids that need to get their sh*t together. How can they not see this is how you are supposed to install/use the product?  They should be talking to sales or support. Don’t they read directions?"

Imagine if everyone in the company understood and embraced their part in the customer's decision to buy from you.  Imagine if everyone, not just the sales team, knew what was important to the customer, and everyone was united in their passion to support them. Imagine if every single person in your company cared as much about the customer as the owner does.

We don’t see our customers; we see the tip of an iceberg. 

When technical people see the customer, they gain insights and move from feeling obligated to being passionate, which results in better customer experiences, additional projects, sales and referrals.

A few years ago, I led a group of 25 technical leaders in a national manufacturing company through a workshop on building trust in Toronto. One of the owners, who we’ll call James, was experiencing roadblocks with several technical leaders. His concern was that these leaders were not customer focused.  Many leaders were adamant that their "roles were technical, (ie. production, IT, product management) that they were not responsible for customers or sales." This meant the technical leaders were not familiar with customers' questions, concerns and priorities. Ultimately, they weren't focused on customers or building relationships with them.

James brought me in to facilitate a session on building trust with customers during their annual off-site strategic planning retreat. One of the company's goals was to grow revenue by 20% with current customers. He wanted everyone to advocate for the customer and  to care as much about the customers as he did

You can imagine that the majority of the people in the room were skeptical when we started!  In one exercise, leaders filled out an empathy map. If you've read my book, you know a critical step to becoming a trusted advisor is to empathize and put ourselves in the customer’s shoes.

Five minutes into the exercise, Will, a welding supervisor had an epiphany: " Customers are just like us. We all want to work with people we trust, get advice from people we trust and do more projects with people we have great relationships with." 

Then an incredible thing happened. It was as if light bulbs were turning on across the room for project managers, engineers, production managers, product managers, technical support specialists, finance, and business development specialists. Suddenly, they saw their customers.

Two weeks later, James called to tell me one of the technical leaders who participated brought in new business. Within three months, all 25 participants proactively reached out to customers. And the technical people are talking about how their decisions affect customers. 

For some, the transformation is like the metamorphosis of a butterfly. After the caterpillar creates a hard protective cocoon, what happens on the inside is almost turbulent. 

Here are 6 actions you can take today to focus technical, non-customer-facing people on customers: 

  1. Send the technical team out to visit customers to see how they use the product.
  2. Invite technical people to join business development, sales reps and owners on customer telephone and video conference calls.
  3. Place signage in your plant or office with pictures of your customers.  
  4. Roleplay: have someone play the role of the customer.
  5. Place ‘secret shopper calls’.
  6. Assign someone on the team each week to share a story in a team meeting of how the company strengthened a relationship of trust with a client. 

When we see the customer holistically, and get below the surface, we gain understanding, insight, and compassion. It transforms the way we approach them, the way we serve them. 

This approach is a critical step to acting in customers' best interests, which is key to becoming a trusted advisor. Imagine what a transformation like this could do for your team, for your customers, for your company.

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