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Published - 6 Dec, 2023

Industry & services, Forest Industry, Healthcare Industry, Opticom

A or B? Make sure you are on the right list!

You might be forgiven for thinking we have a one-track mind when it comes to listening. We’re always talking about the value of listening to customers and indeed other stakeholders in the value chain before making decisions, but it’s with good reason. The graveyard of business failures is littered with those who didn’t grasp what their customers were trying to tell them until it was too late.

A or B Make sure you are on the right list

Evidently, the issue extends beyond merely failing to see the bigger picture; a lack of listening can also be a facet of mismanagement. Good management practice tends to include seeing beyond the immediate horizon to a wider view and that requires gathering qualitative input from perspectives outside our own.

 

As we began brainstorming examples, it was striking how rapidly we could list famous names known for their less-than-ideal decisions. A few examples: 

 

  • General Electric (GE) didn't heed warnings about over-diversification for many years and lost focus on its core industrial businesses. The lack of attention to customer feedback and market trends led to a significant decline in its stock price and forced the company to divest many of its businesses. 

 

  • U.S. Steel failed to modernize and adapt to new production technologies. Despite warnings and customer shifts toward companies that adopted newer, more cost-effective production methods, U.S. Steel’s hesitance led to a decline in its market position. 

 

  • Kodak (Industrial Imaging) is often cited for its failure in the consumer market, but it also had a significant presence in industrial imaging. It was slow to adapt to digital technologies in this sector as well, hurting its business. 

 

  • Caterpillar faced stiff competition from competitors in the early 1990s such as Komatsu, who were offering lower prices and better customer service. It took a strike and organizational changes for Caterpillar to refocus on customer needs and regain market share. 

 

  • Xerox had a strong hold on the photocopying market but initially ignored the rise of digital document technologies. A late response to market changes led to significant losses in market share. 

 

In contrast, a few that turned failure into success by demonstrating customer-centricity and adaptability: 

 

  • IBM was facing financial troubles in the 1990s and was seen as a stagnant company. It was transformed by listening to customers and focusing on delivering solutions that met their specific needs. This customer-centric approach, combined with innovation, helped IBM regain its position as a leader in the tech industry. 

 

  • Salesforce.com started as a small CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software company. Listening to its B2B customers, it understood the need for more adaptable, scalable and cost-effective CRM systems and moved away from traditional on-premise software. Its customer-centric approach helped it become a leader in the CRM market. 

 

  • Adobe Systems faced challenges with software piracy but introduced a subscription model (Creative Cloud) based on customer feedback, making its software more accessible and affordable to a broader range of users. This shift significantly increased revenues. 

 

  • Oracle, a leading enterprise software and database company, listens to customer feedback to improve its products continually. It has also adapted to the cloud computing trend by offering cloud-based solutions, staying relevant in the evolving B2B technology landscape. 

 

  • Xerox – again. It features in both lists because, as mentioned above, it struggled in the early 2000s in the face of technological disruption. But by listening to customer feedback and evolving products to meet modern business needs, Xerox diversified into services and solutions, which helped it regain market share. 

 

The list goes on…Those in the second section have one thing in coming: By actively listening to their business customers and making the necessary adjustments, they've overcome challenges and remained competitive in their respective industries. 

 

Customer feedback can be a valuable source of insights for improving products, services, and overall business strategies. We know which of these lists we’d rather be in, don’t you? 

 

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