Stop the Navel-Gazing
The navel gazing curse is rampant.
A client of mine once worked with a consultant to help them clarify their company’s brand. The consultant interviewed the executive team, middle managers and dozens of employees. The consultant asked about the company’s history, values, and personality. I listened to my client explain the branding project they had undertaken, and then asked, ‘Did anyone talk with customers?”
Silence. It was like deer in the headlights. Another victim of navel-gazing.
Recently, I met with an organization undertaking a major marketing initiative. Prior to our meeting, they asked me to look at their website and comment about efforts to-date. As I reviewed the site, my heart sank. Navel-gazing again. Their site was all about “me, me, me” – my organization, my services, my vision. I wondered, “What about the customer?”
Navel-gazing is a curse we all have. We’re obsessed with “what’s in it for me” instead of “what’s in it for the customer.” We fail to “seek first to understand, then to be understood” – as Stephen Covey has so concisely stated. Navel-gazing is everywhere.
So, what’s the cure? Start with a good dose of humility. Start by asking yourself, “What’s in it for the customer” and then be willing to say, “I don’t know.” Make the decision to first understand customers before talking about your wonderful products or services. Personally, I’m more impressed with humble clients who say, “I don’t know” or “Are we sure we’re right?” than the proud who say, “This is the way it is” or “I know what the customer wants.”
When I was in my 20s, a mentor warned me, “Len, beware of falling in love with the prodigy of your own mind. We all love our newborn children (ideas).”
How do companies successfully avoid navel-gazing? They have processes that require listening. Some examples:
- New products or services are not introduced and marketing campaigns are not executed until neutral and independent market research is completed.
- Front-line employees – those closest to customers such as salespeople and customer service reps – are encouraged to capture and communicate what they hear from customers. One bank actually rewards tellers for collecting customer complaints and forwarding them to senior management. How’s that for embracing the bearers of bad news?
Yes, online ordering and website shopping carts are clearly efficient, save costs, and generate reams of data about customer behavior. But, they can also emotionally disconnect companies from having real-life conversations with customers.
I recently heard a presentation by Tony Hsieh, president of Zappos.com – the online (more than shoes) retailer whose goal is to “deliver happiness.” Tony gets it. Reaching a billion dollars in revenue in just a few years proves he gets it. They make it easy for customers to talk with them. “We plaster our 800 number all over our website,” he said. “We want to listen to our customers. Our phone service people have no scripts.”
Contrast that with the all too common experience many of us have had where finding a phone number on a company’s website is like searching for an ice cube in hell. If you’re lucky to find the number, you’re taken prisoner by the phone tree, put on hold, and tortured by the recording saying how valuable you are as a customer. (Yeah, right.) And, when you’re finally connected, it’s to an anemic actor (employee) poorly performing the script, who has no authority without talking with a supervisor (while you’re put on hold again). Sound familiar? God help us. The curse continues.
Please. Stop the navel-gazing. Stop the self-centeredness. Focus on the customer.