Growing up in the racing capital of the world, I’ve always been attracted to auto racing, whether in the form of Indycar, NASCAR, F1 or NHRA (and others). If it has four wheels and goes fast, I’m in. With the month of May right around the corner (meaning the Indy 500 in these parts), I’m psyched up for racing once again.
While seeing just how fast these cars can go is intriguing to me, the days of unbridled speed (240mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) are probably behind us. So, recognizing that there are limits to how fast a person can go while being able to safely make a turn, what I’ve found fascinating is how race teams not only gather, but also use enormous amounts of data to determine how to improve a car’s quickness on the track.
Each time Dario Franchitti (winner of the recent race in Long Beach, and my pick to win the Indy 500 again) heads out on the track, he’s just like a company gathering feedback on its customer relationships. His red and white Target #10 car provides data about how it performs on the straightaways versus the corners, in and out of traffic, in sunlight and in shade, and on a number of different dynamics: braking, acceleration, fuel economy, downforce, and air flow.
Franchitti is like the steward of a company’s efforts to connect with its customers. He obviously needs to be an expert in driving a car at high speeds, but must also be a great communicator, who can interpret what’s happening to the car on the track, and add context to those who are simply looking at the data.
If a car feels ‘loose’ to the Dario in the first turn of the racetrack, he will communicate that to his team. While he/she has some options inside the cockpit to make on-the-fly adjustments, he will radio the team in the pits who can corroborate that with data on the amount of front and rear downforce the car has into and out of that turn, as well as the wear and tear on the rear tires. If these immediate adjustments do not resolve the issue, the team will be put into action, based on the data that they’ve collected from the car while on the track. In some cases, they’ll adjust the front wing, in others they may adjust the camber to maximize the area of the tires that actually touch the racing surface, or they may switch to an alternate tire with better grip.
The great thing about racing teams is that the best ones have mastered the art of interpreting the science. They have identified the levers that they need to tweak based upon the feedback they receive in order to improve performance. They’ve learned how to identify the different drivers related to a faster race car, and a playbook on what to do to leverage a strong result or mitigate a negative one.
That’s what we’re faced with in managing our relationships with customers. We have to
· be clear (both internally and externally) on what the levers are,
· gather accurate, timely, and frequent feedback on how we’re doing,
· interpret what customers are saying, both in numbers and stories, and
· communicate what it all means to members of our teams who might just be looking at data
So, in a sense, we are all race car drivers, and we need to be just as passionate about finding that extra mile or mile per hour for our company to help us get to the checkered flag before our competitors.