The most damaging problem is the one you don't know you have. Compensating behaviors are what customers do when your product or service isn't meeting their needs. This week's story is a memorable example of that which can be used to help you identify compensating behaviors among your customers.
- The most dangerous problem is the one you don't know you have. Now, fortunately, there's a simple but highly effective way to identify problems you don't know you have. Now here's what that looks like in action. Sometime in the 1960s, the Everlasting Valve Corporation in New Jersey hired a new salesman. Well, a few weeks into his training, he decided he was ready to visit customers, but not on a sales call. He wanted to see how they installed their everlasting boiler valves and how they received them, serviced them, and even booked them into inventory.
His thinking was that if he understood how they used what he sold them, he'd be better able to meet their needs in the future. So he arranged to visit a few of his customers' facilities. Well, when he got to the first one, his contact met him and they started their tour. But when they got to the factory floor, he noticed a crane lifting a wooden box slowly up into the air, and then suddenly the box fell to the ground with an enormous crash. And the salesman yelled, "Look out!" And just as he turned away, wooden splinters were flying everywhere and the contents of the crate came skidding to a stop on the floor.
Now the salesman asked, "Is everyone okay?" His tour guide just laughed and said, "Yeah, everyone's fine. "We do that on purpose. "You know, that shipping crate is so well-built "that it's easier to open by dropping it on the floor. "It takes a lot less time than trying to pry open "every plank one at a time." The salesman looked down at the floor and saw the name of the manufacturer on one of the broken wooden boards. It read, Everlasting Valve Corporation.
Well, you can imagine he was a little embarrassed, but what he found is a classic example of what product designers call a compensating behavior. You know, when your customers use your product in a way that's other than you expected or intended, that's a compensating behavior. And it's a clear sign of a problem with your product that you don't know about. Everlasting Valve was spending about 10% of its sales on those super-sturdy wooden crates. Once this salesman realized they were too strong, the company replaced them with simple, inexpensive skids.
Now that saved his company thousands of dollars a year, and spared his customers the time, hassle, and safety risk of opening them. You know, it's like if you've ever used a hacksaw to open the plastic packaging around a small toy or placed a strip of black electrical tape over the flashing 12 o'clock on your DVD player. Those are compensating behaviors, and great indications that the product or packaging leave something to be desired. Now, watching your customers using your product, the way the Everlasting Valve salesman did, is the best way to find compensating behaviors.
You know, if the only information you have on your customers is through online surveys or focus group interviews in a conference room, you probably don't know what their compensating behaviors are. Get out of the office and visit your customers where they use your product, whether that's in a place of business or in their homes. Now you might not be lucky enough for someone to drop a crate at your feet, but if you watch carefully, you might find a compensating behavior just as telling.
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