(This is an excerpt from Chapter 23 of Startup CEO, “Collecting Data,” in which I write about the importance of observing and learning from customers and friends of the firm, as well as employees.)
Here’s a story for you that happened 10+ years ago. I’m sitting at the bar of Sam Snead’s Tavern in Port St. Lucie, Florida, having dinner solo while I wait for my friend Karl to arrive. I ask the bartender where he’s from, since he has an accent. Nice conversation about how life is rough in Belfast and thank goodness for the American dream. I ask him what to order for dinner and tell him a couple of menu items I’m contemplating. He says, “I don’t know why they don’t listen to me. I keep telling them that all the people here say that the nachos aren’t good because they don’t have enough beef in them.”
I order something else.
Five minutes later, someone else pounds his hand on the bar and barks out, “Give me a Heineken and a plate of nachos.”
The bartender enters the order into the point-of-sale system.
What’s the lesson? Listen to your front-line employees—in fact, make them your customer research team. I have seen and heard this time and again. Employees deal with unhappy customers, then roll their eyes, knowing full well about all the problems the customers are encountering and also believing that management either knows already or doesn’t care. There’s no reason for this! At a minimum, you should always listen to your customer-facing employees, internalize the feedback and act on it. They hear and see it all. Next best prize: ask them questions. Better yet: get them to actively solicit customer feedback