The ability to get to know your customer in order to tailor your offerings to their interests is a skill that many businesses covet, but so few truly practice. Learn key tactics to really know what your customers want and gain a deeper understanding of who they are. Betsy Westhafer and Tony Bodoh welcome guests who do business to REALLY Know Your Customer. Get ready to hear some great advice that will help you sharpen your customer experience to perfection.
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What It Means To REALLY Know Your Customer
How Can You Understand What It Feels Like To Be The Customer?
My name is Tony Bodoh. I’m here with my coauthor and friend, Betsy Westhafer. I am the CEO and Founder of Tony Bodoh International. It is a customer experience consulting firm. Betsy is the CEO and Founder of The Congruity Group. She focuses on customer advisory boards. There’s been an interesting dynamic and collaboration between us over the last several years. It started back in 2018, Betsy called me up and said, “Let’s have a conversation.” She was telling me about how she’s been working on these CABs or Client Advisory Boards where the C-level executives get together and understand what’s happening for their business clients. They then bring in the C-level executives of their clients. They have these great roundtable discussions. She’s talking about how they integrate the work that they do, the findings as they listen to their customers down into their organization and how that changes the relationships.
I start sharing some of the work that I’ve been doing from the bottom up, primarily from the B2C side. Working with the line-level employees and with the consumers as they’re talking right directly back to the company and how I filtered that up through the organization to the CEO. As we’re in this conversation, I realized we have a lot of synergies here. We work from different perspectives, but we’ve got some great synergies. At some point in there, Betsy said, “How about we write a book together?”
As true as that story is, the way you told it, it was an off the cuff comment that I was making. I also remember, Tony, we had scheduled a 30-minute call. In about 1 hour and 45 minutes in, I flippantly said, “Tony, we should write a book together.” Your response was, “Let’s do it.” You had written books before and I had not. It was a little bit daunting for me, but I also recall you said, “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it. Let’s go heads down. Let’s get this done. Let’s put out a good piece of work,” which we both are quite proud of the way it turned out. I’m grateful, honored and humbled to be partnered with you on many projects.
We’ve got a lot of things going on like this show. We are starting to do summits, webinars and all kinds of fun things around this brand of the book, ProphetAbility: The Revealing Story of Why Companies Succeed, Fail and Bounce Back. It should be noted that profit in ProphetAbility, in our book, is prophet meaning, forward-looking, looking out into the future, using your customers to help you figure out what it’s going to look like in the future. This is the spin we put on the book title. The next step for us as two professionals with synergies in our businesses is launching this show. We’re excited and happy to bring you this show and to bring you the knowledge that we’re gaining from the interviews we’ve already had. We have learned so much. We know that the readers will too. We’re excited to bring you this show.
As you talked about the book, Betsy, one of the things that strike me is that we had so much information already that we both came to the table with. We’ve been doing this for collectively many years at the time that we had this conversation about the book. As we began to organize our thoughts and ideas, what came out of it was that companies are good about listening to their customers at the moment in a reactive way. The challenge that the executives were having, both the executives you were talking to at the client advisory boards, the executives I was working with as we filtered the voice of the customer back up through the organization, is that it wasn’t about tactics. They want a strategy. They said, “How do we position ourselves for the next 3 to 5 years? How do we see the future and where we need to go?” That is how you arrived at the idea of profit using prophet and about how we play off that.
We then filled the book with plenty of stories about how companies that succeeded had listened to their customers. They got to know their customer. The companies that failed did not listen to their customers. They made bad decisions because they weren’t paying attention to their customers. Then there were companies that bounced back where they went through a period of not listening, but when they started listening, their companies took off again. It’s interesting to me that we wrote this book, we’ve talked about what do we do with it. The book’s been out there for years, yet it’s still relevant information, but we want to update it because the world has changed quite radically in the last years. There’s so much that has happened.
That’s one of the reasons. We also talked to these executives. Everyone we talked to in the show has been able to share how they see the world has changed. More importantly, our focus is around, “Where’s the world going? Where’s your industry going? Where is this idea of listening to the customer going?” We’re not only talking to consultants or software developers in the customer experience space. We’re talking to CEOs and chief marketing officers of a variety of companies. We’re talking to the people who have listened to the customer, not those who are trying to sell you something and to get you to listen to the customer. I hope you find this valuable as we go through these interviews.
It’s about deep listening. It’s not just, “They like this feature and function.” It’s deeper than that. I can recall a story. One of our customer advisory boards was showing a whole lot of information. Our clients were showing the customers around the table and these were all CIOs, for the most part, showing the feature and function. One of the customers said, “I want to know three things. I want to know how you’re going to help me keep my job, how you’re going to help me stay with my family on the weekends and not have to work and worry, and how you’re going to help me sleep at night. That’s what I want to know from you.”
That’s what we’re talking about in the Really Know Your Customer show. That’s why we named it that is we wanted to get to this deep and know your customer. We’re talking about things that are human. We touched a lot on that in the book, the human aspect of knowing your customers, knowing where they’re going, so that you can get out in front of them and be ready when they get there. The only way to do that is by talking to them and getting to know them. We’re excited about the guests we have on. I think that our readers are going to get great value from the various people that we’re interviewing for the show.
What stands out to me is something that one of our guests, Scott, brought up. He talks about the culture and employees. You made a comment there, your client, when they were listening to their customer, they said, “We want to know how you’re going to help us spend time with our family and sleep at night.” It’s the personal things that matter. When Scott was talking to us, he was talking about how they had done this SWOT analysis. They went out to their clients. They thought they knew what they did well. When their clients came back to them, they said, “The thing we like and value most is your responsiveness and the relationship you have with us.”
Scott was blown away by that. He was shocked by that. Not that he didn’t think that it was a big deal, but he was like, “Maybe it’s the technology or it’s the way we do this or that.” When it came back to that relationship and that responsiveness, it cemented what they were already doing but didn’t realize that’s what mattered to the customer. Once he got to know their customer, it allowed him to talk through some of the changes they made in their organization and how they’re looking to the future. When I think about this Really Know Your Customer idea, it strikes me as something that I’ve told clients for many years. I’m a recovering data nerd. I started many years ago as a marketing analyst.
Let’s be real, Tony. Sorry, but you have not fully recovered
I haven’t. I’ve been working on it for a long time. It’s probably never going to happen because I love data. The data shows us so much great stuff. One of the things I noticed in that is that almost every time you put data out there first and you don’t look at the humanity, the behaviors, the emotions that cause the decisions that created those metrics, you lose something. That’s why we’re advocates of the technology, the way AI machine learning, a lot of these other tools are coming into play. If you put them in place and expect to disconnect your human aspect of the humanity of your company from it, and you think that your customers are going to be able to do everything themselves, we’re not there yet. I don’t know that we ever will be there completely.
It’s not good to make predictions like that, but the Really Know Your Customer aspect of this is understanding who your customers. Data can tell you a lot about your customer, but it does not help you to know your customer. There’s a difference in that intimacy, in that shared experience that an employee and a customer have on the phone, on the front lines or in your case, with the client advisory boards. When the CEO, your client, is sitting there in the room listening to the CIOs or the chief marketing officers of their clients and they have this human-to-human connection, it’s not just about reading a report and data. It’s about getting deeper into an understanding of, “Who are these people in front of me? What is it that matters to them as human beings, not just as robots or gears in a machine?” It’s their emotions, decisions, behaviors, and it’s stuff outside of work that’s affecting them. We talked about this in the book and I love this idea. Even in B2B, we’re not doing business with other businesses, we’re doing business with people.
Another thing that strikes me along those lines is there are some companies out there where the CEO has been the customer. We have a story about that in our book. The story of IBM, where Lou Gerstner was the customer and he then became the CEO. He saw and understood at a deep level what those issues were. We have a guest on our show, Nick Ripplinger. He’s the CEO of Battle Sight Technologies, which is a company that develops technologies for the warfighters on the ground. He is an Army veteran. He understands these issues at a deep level. It’s a super big advantage if you’re the CEO and you had been the customer. If that’s not your case, how can you get as close to being the actual customer yourself and understand what it feels like to be that customer? I’m looking forward to sharing that interview with Nick because that’s a whole different perspective when you’ve been the customer. If it’s somebody that hasn’t had that experience, it’s going to be hard to understand it fully, but you sure can get close if you talk to your customers and listen to what they’re saying and try to put yourself in their shoes.
That brings us to a topic that we talked about in ProphetAbility. I know that you’re passionate about the idea of unfiltered listening. Share with me a little bit your perspective of unfiltered listening and how that plays out. Where I see that taking us is into a lot of conversations. One of those is our conversation with Kerrie Hoffman who talks about customer-centricity at a level that few people talk about it. She is talking about the customer’s mindset and listening to her talk through what that means and what digital transformation means, it’s not about the technology. The technology is there, but she’s talking about the mindset of the customer being transformed and how you need to think about your business. Take us through what unfiltered listening means to you and how that plays out.
In the book, we talked about this concept of unfiltered listening. Every little kid ever in the history of man has played the game of telephone, where you whisper in somebody’s ear, they take that message and they tell the next person. Everybody understands the game of telephone and how the message comes out on the other end completely different when it’s filtered through all these different lenses, biases and prisms of people interpreting the message. Particularly at the executive level, what we propose is that they need to have a mindset of unfiltered listening where they hear directly from the customers, not having it filtered through lots of people. Sometimes it’s intended, sometimes it’s not where the message gets completely distorted before it gets up to the person who has to make decisions based on that input.
An example, one of our clients had asked us to come in and talk to their sales team as a kickoff for the customer advisory board. They wanted their sales team to make nominations of people that we should consider asking to be on the board. Most of them were excited. They wanted their customers on this board. They thought it would be great, but there was one particular salesperson who was pushing back hard in front of the group, “My clients don’t have time for that. They’re busy people. I know what they’re thinking. I can tell you what they’re thinking. We don’t need to do that. They’re not going to want to do that.” She protested too much and it was clear that there was something going on there.
The leadership team dug into it, reached out to that client and found out that what they were hearing from the salesperson was not at all the reality in the mind of the client. Sometimes it’s a natural thing to inject your own views around some feedback. In this case, it was a little bit different than that. She was trying to protect herself, her job or whatever. It did not work out well because once you find out what’s going on with the customer, who are you going to believe? In that case, it was important for the leadership team to get to the real heart of what’s going on with the customers because that’s how they base decisions. If you’re going to make good decisions, you have to have good data. The data is coming directly from the customer at that point.
One of the things that stands out for me is that when we go listen to customers, we’re listening to what’s between the lines. It’s the ‘why’ of the customer. People might be familiar with the book that Simon Sinek wrote, Find Your Why. If you take that from the business context into the consumer context, every consumer has a ‘why.’ It’s that thing that drives in that deep psychological need or desire that they have. If we understand that and our customers at that level and we have that knowledge, then we can pivot our business when it requires it. I think of an example of a client that I had years ago. They were a manufacturing company that sold primarily through distributors. Most of them were mom-and-pop shops that they sold through.
This distributor said, “We need to go online. We need to be able to sell our product directly to the consumer.” We went through and understood and began to dive into it. I had long conversations with the CEO. We brought in the customer feedback. I walked him through it step-by-step, literally having him read the feedback with me so he could see what was happening and where I was going in my mindset. He began to develop that prophetability. He could see what the customers were saying between the words that they were using. What’s that emotional tone? What was their why behind it? As a result, they shifted and a vast majority of their sales are already online. I talked with them and they’re making a bigger move in that direction because they understand even more of what their customers want and what the ‘why’ is behind their customers. They’re shifting markets so they’re attracting an entirely new set of customers because they understand that ‘why’ much better. This idea of knowing your customer, of unfiltered listening and getting to the ‘why,’ that emotional reason, that desire that’s deep within us as human beings, that’s what matters.
The flip side is true. I had this thought occurred to me that the customers need to get to know you as well. This is a two-way communication. This was several years ago, we were in an advisory board meeting and there was this one gentleman that’s frosty and liked to be the smartest guy in the room. He acted as he would rather be anywhere else. He was not warm and fuzzy but a prickly guy. In our boards, what we do is do rolling terms so that we bring people on and we roll them off. There’s some continuity, but there are also new ideas being injected into the conversation. At this point, it was time for this gentleman to be rolled off. They did a little ceremony, thanked him for serving on the board, gave him a plaque, all that kind of stuff.
This little prickly guy ended up in tears and he said, “I love this company. I’ve invested in the success of this company. I love knowing what’s going on. I love being able to influence.” The fact that they had this customer begging to be a part of their internal team, they got to know one another, it was magical. As the story goes on, I’m not making this up, another person on the board, a woman was like, “When do I roll-off? I have to roll-off this board.” She got all upset. There is not enough Kleenex for this boardroom of executive leaders, but it was a cool thing to see. When you start to get to know your customers and they start to get to know you, then you have loyalty, advocacy and marketing opportunities to do things together to leverage those customer relationships. There’s so much depth to these relationships that build sustainability, security and long-term relationships that can make or break a company quite honestly.
One of our guests, Tracy, touches on the element of this that makes a difference. Tracy was a designer for many years. She’s designing products that we all have used for big companies like Costco, Target and others out there. She made an interesting point and it’s the value of knowing your customer and the ‘why’ behind it because often, customers don’t know what they want. Let me clarify what I mean by that. It’s not that they don’t know that they want something. They do want something better, but they can’t necessarily imagine what it would look like or what it would be like. When you understand their ‘why,’ that deep driving force within them, and when you have these dual relationships like you’re describing on these executive boards, then you can get into understanding, “They say they want X. This is their goal. This is the outcome they want to achieve. I understand that the reason they want to achieve that is that they want to feel this way and experience this thing. How can I help them achieve that goal, have that feeling but maybe do it in a way that they least expect?”
Do it in a way that is more efficient, effective and impactful. She talks about her design experience in that. She goes on to talk about how she runs a company called Podetize and how they have worked with over 300 different brands to create a customized podcast for each and every one of them. It’s important as you know your customer, you know what they want, you know why they want it and you also know that what they’re asking for may not be the thing that’s going to help them achieve their goal.
In the conversation with Tracy, I thought that was insightful. She was talking about the multiple layers of customers that you have, particularly in the field that she was in where you had the purchaser, designers, architects, store owners. You have this whole big chain of people that have to be pleased with this product development. When you have that many customers with different outcomes that they’re looking for, it can get complicated. You have to understand all along the chain. You have to understand their motivations and what their ‘whys’ are.
I hope this show, at least this first episode, has gotten you a little bit intrigued, excited and interested in coming back and in reading some of the interviews we have with our guests. You’re going to pull a lot out of this. Every interview we have, I’ve pulled a lot out and I’ve been doing this for a long time. Betsy has been doing it as long as I have and she as well has had some a-ha moments in this.
That’s why it’s fun. We are having fun having these conversations, but we know that before we say hello to our guests, we’re going to walk away with something concrete that could enhance our businesses. The key to that is not just reading it. The key is to take action on it. We’re excited about some things that we’re putting in place to help you, the readers, take action on what you read in these episodes. When you come along the ride with us on this show, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll have some big insights, particularly as the world is changing much more to a digital world. How do you do that? How do you build those relationships? How do you get to know your customers when you may not be able to sit across from a table from them for the short-term or the long-term? Depending on some of the happenings in the business world, depending on how that all plays out long-term. There’s going to be a lot to learn and a lot of people have a big nut to crack in terms of figuring it out. Our guests will help everyone do that when it comes to really knowing your customer.
- Betsy Westhafer – LinkedIn
- Betsy Westhafer – Twitter
- Tony Bodoh – LinkedIn
- Tony Bodoh – Twitter
- ProphetAbility: The Revealing Story of Why Companies Succeed, Fail and Bounce Back
- The Congruity Group
- Tony Bodoh International
- ProphetAbility Membership
- ProphetAbility for Teams
About Betsy Westhafer
Betsy Westhafer is the Founder and CEO of The Congruity Group, a consultancy focused on helping organizations achieve 100% retention of key accounts and double digit account revenue growth through building and leveraging deep customer relationships.
Congruity works with companies to build and execute customer-focused strategies, with a particular focus on deploying both digital and in-person Customer Advisory Boards.
Betsy is a speaker, a frequent podcast guest, and the co-author of the #1 Best Seller, “ProphetAbility – The Revealing Story of Why Companies Succeed, Fail, or Bounce Back.” She lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband Paul, and when not working spends her time with her kids and grandkids, preferably on the water at Lake Cumberland.
About Tony Bodoh
Tony Bodoh is the CEO of Tony Bodoh International, a customer experience consultancy. TBI’s focus is on applying the science of human experience to deepen the customer relationships that build brands and grow businesses. In 2018, Tony was named one of the “Top Customer Service Movers and Shakers You Should Follow.”
Tony is also a co-founder of 3 other businesses, including Pinstripe Entertainment which runs Pinstripe.TV and BZNS. Tony describes Pinstripe.TV as “Netflix meets Amazon Prime Video for business people.” The platform provides live-streaming and curated on-demand shows, documentaries, and courses for business leaders. BZNS is an all-business broadcast channel launching in 2020.
Tony is a speaker, podcaster, and co-author of three #1 Best Selling books including: ProphetAbility – The Revealing Story of Why Companies Succeed, Fail, or Bounce Back; Leverage – How to Achieve a Lot with the Little You’ve Got; and, The Complete Experience – Unlocking the Secrets of Online Reviews that Drive Customer Loyalty.
Tony lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and two daughters, and spends his free time between volunteering in the community with his family and binge-watching historical documentaries.