During company meetings at Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos leaves an empty chair at the conference table and announces to attendees that it’s occupied by “the most important person in the room” the customer. Then, he backs up his talk with an array of metrics, 80% of which are focused on what customers care about. You don’t have to be founder and CEO to take a page from Bezos’s playbook.

Understanding customers will help your company better invest time and money, get to the heart of problems fast, improve your products or services, and test ideas.  This is especially important to remember as your customer relationships develop in tandem with your own growth. Generally, the higher up you are on the corporate ladder, the less you interface with customers. This means that, often, the people making the biggest decisions are those who have the haziest idea of what the customer wants. When I was at PentaSafe, Doug Erwin combated this by creating a program that required managers to contact five to seven customers, twice a year, within a two-week time range and ask them five key questions. The questions were:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely satisfied, please tell us how satisfied you are.
  2. Based on the answer above, please provide the reasons why.
  3. Do our products help you achieve your goals?
  4. How can we improve?
  5. Would you recommend our products to a colleague?

After we collected our data, the managers would present the results to each other in a half-day session. Every single time, we’d uncover essential insights into what thrilled our customers and what frustrated them. Of course, all of the most valuable insight in the world wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t take any action. Customers hate lip service, and all too often a company will sink massive amounts of resources into data collection only to let that data collect dust. We documented the feedback and chose the most important items, what steps we would take, and who would be held accountable. We didn’t stop there, but instead, completed the feedback loop. After the meeting, we made sure to follow up with the customers and update them about whether we chose to adjust our product or process as a result, and why or why not. This showed our customers that we were paying attention to them.

So, if you’re looking for a great way to make your company’s offerings stand out, seek a better understanding of your customers’ needs. As you plan to gather their feedback, know what goals you are  trying to achieve; prepare questions that will solicit honest, valuable input; identify the right customers; add a feedback loop; and be prepared to take action. Here are ideas for gathering customer feedback:

  • Proactively interview them.
  • Send customer surveys
  • Attend your company’s seminars so you can meet customers.
  • Create focus groups or customer advisory boards. Seek input on social media.
  • Go where customers hang out and get to know them

Creating a customer program with  a continuous feedback loop will make your more accountable to your customers and create the foundation for a a customer-centric business. Remember the Customer is the most important person in the room.

Steven Mark Kahan has successfully helped to grow six start-up companies from early-stage development to going public or being sold, resulting in more than $3 billion in shareholder value. He is the Chief Marketing Officer at Thycotic, which will become the seventh start-up. Steven is the author of “Be a Startup Superstar” published by Wiley.

Customers stock photo by 13_Phunkod/Shutterstock