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‘To a guy with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’

The above statement is one of my favorite ways to simultaneously:

1. Confess to my severe bias when it comes to solving complex business issues, and
2. Place the role of customer advocacy in a more strategic setting.

In the best circumstances, my oft-used statement lightens up the mood. It disarms people by admitting that we think every business problem/issue ultimately relates to a misunderstanding of customer wants/needs. Yet, it also suggests that the survey isn’t always the first tool we need to use. We’ll probably get around to using it at some point, just like a hammer, but we will use other tools as well. This allows people to pause, step back from the details and consider the broader issues.

People don’t conduct customer surveys, collect customer feedback, and organize customer information just to provide people like us with employment. They want to solve business problems, take advantage of a market opportunity or manage change better. Far too often, too much emphasis is placed on just getting the data, more data, and even more data. Like a guy running around a construction site with a hammer hitting nails and screws and bolts, anything that you could hit and not taking the time to consider the objectives and select the proper tool.

At Walker, we have studied why this happens for many years. We know that customer listening programs that fail rarely do so because of the quality of the research. Failure usually occurs because the program is not seen as aligned with the business issues and/or the outputs are not seen as answers to the business questions. We have a simple solution to that.

Before you open that tool box to pull out that hammer, just sit back and ask a few questions about what the organization is trying to learn/accomplish. To help you, my colleagues at Walker have organized an exhaustive list of business issues/problems and they all fall into one of four buckets as follows:

1. Growth & Profitability
2. Predictability of Results
3. Competitive Position
4. Corporate Strategy

And, lucky for all of us customer advocates, having good information about the customer is essential to making the right decisions in each category. And just when you think it can’t get any better, we have insights and expertise about how to use this knowledge of the customer to address these concerns that top management is interested in. Want to learn more? Search around on these blogs or get in contact with us.

Don’t worry. You will still get to swing that hammer. But at least you will know that you are hitting the nails.

Originally posted in Customer Connection July 30, 2009.

About the Author

Steve Walker

Steve Walker

As the third generation of Walkers to lead the privately-held research and consulting firm, Steve is focused on creating shareholder value for Walker’s clients through customer intelligence and customer strategies. Steve was named president of Walker in 1994 and added the CEO title in 1996. Then, in 2006, Steve was named chairman of the board.

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