View All Articles

Are You Listening to Your Customers? How Small Changes Produce Market Share Gains

By Denise Harrison, Executive Vice President & COO

Strategic Planning Expert

Too often we are so myopically focused on the product or service we are trying to sell, that we don’t listen to what our customer is saying.  The product or service may be great – but something around the buying experience or the initial purchase experience may be preventing our customer from saying “Yes.” If you truly understand these issues, you can gain significant customer loyalty and market share.

Package Delivery

As a frequent traveler, I am often not at home to receive deliveries.  I live in an urban area where packages left on my door step have a habit of walking away – apparently by themselves.  Many people have similar problems when receiving packages:

  • No way to receive packages when away from home (or even receive a notice that there has been a delivery attempt)
  • No way to receive packages because job requirements do not allow you to be home during the day
  • Packages stolen if left at the door

For many years I have requested people sending me packages to send them UPS – my UPS person, knocks on the door (not sure why the others don’t); then if I am not home, he wraps my package up in the door mat and puts it between the storm door and the front door.  This technique has prevented theft over the years.  How hard is it to try something like this for the other carriers?

Recently, though, someone sent me wine, which requires a signature – even my UPS person was stymied by this one.  I was out for the week and UPS has instituted a rule that, if not delivered in 3 days, it is sent back to the shipper. (This is not a new rule, just loosely enforced previously.)  So the wine was on its way across the country again. Who is happy about this?  Not me, not the shipper, and not UPS, because I made sure they knew I was not happy.

Changes – Somewhat Better

Being the quiet, mild consultant that I am, I vociferously complained over the years about this problem.  I had sent all of the carriers (UPS, FedEx, and USPS) suggestions that they should have recipient email addresses on file so that I could be notified when a package was on its way to me. I mean really, this is the 21st century. This notification would enable me to make arrangements or request a hold.  (While there has been some package notification, it has generally always been done at the shipper’s site – if the shipper has the capability and knows the email address.) Thus, if this service were offered – you can usually make arrangements; but not always – when you are out of town for a long period of time, this may still be problematic.  (I often wonder what changes would be made if the package carriers rated themselves on successful delivery rather than just efficiency.)  Do you think that they really look at solving the problem from the recipient’s viewpoint?

Amazon Takes Charge

Online retailers certainly have to deal with this problem; Amazon’s frustration with the problem has led to the next step up in providing a solution: lockers.  When something is shipped (and locker is requested) you receive an email when it arrives, with the code to open the locker.  You can then pick up the package at your convenience at a third-party site (e.g., 7 Eleven) where you have greater pick-up flexibility around date and time.  This is new, so only available in a few cities – but it provides a good solution.  Amazon made it easier for a certain segment of their customers to buy from it.

Package Carriers – Are you Listening?

How about lockers for your customers?  If a package cannot be delivered, send an email that asks about locker pickup.  If desired, send the code and let the recipient tell you when the package will be picked up.  Ideally this will help with customer/recipient satisfaction.  It will also help with efficiency; the carrier will not continue to try to deliver a package when the recipient is not home. As many of the carriers have locations already setup, this should be an easy fix – although they will need to make the lockers accessible during a wider timeframe.  (Ideally, this would be some kind of setup like Post Office boxes where box holders can pick up their mail at any time.) Might there be some sort of niche business opportunity here, operating a readily accessible “locker-room” or “package depot”?  Could USPS pick this up as an additional business?

What Can We Learn From This?

Look at the product or service from your customers’ viewpoint.  What barriers exist that prevent purchase that may have nothing to do with the actual product or service – but have everything to do with whether or not the customer buys?  Take the time to truly understand your customers’ full buying experience, including perhaps, even its disposal experience, and you can uncover barriers that, if overcome, will open doors and allow you to gain market share.

Interested in how WD-40 doubled its business by listening to customers? Click on WD-40http://www.strategyletter.com/CD0108a/featured_article.php.

Denise Harrison is Executive Vice President and COO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  She can be reached at  harrison@cssp.com.

© Copyright 2012 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.