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13/05/2017 9:53 AM AEST | Updated 13/05/2017 9:53 AM AEST

When You Absolutely HAVE To Listen To Your Customers

Remember the Arnotts/Shapes fiasco?!

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There are many times businesses need to listen to their customers because even if the feedback they receive is negative, if they don't alter the way they do business, they could quickly lose their target market.

We've all heard the saying 'the customer is always right' but this rings particularly true when businesses are in survival mode. Who can forget the public furore when Arnotts dared to change the recipe of Shapes?

Trying to introduce new flavours to this Shape-loving nation was a major disaster. There were adult tantrums going on. In fact, the outcry was so extreme, Arnotts really had no choice but to back track, and make a public announcement that they'd be keeping the original flavours.

Put simply, there are many times that business owners risk their future if they close their ears to customer demands.

Business strategist and author Matt Malouf told HuffPost Australia business owners must be consistently listening to the feedback of their target market.

"If there is enough consistent feedback from your customers then strategically improving our business or services is a must. However, we should be at the beck and call of our customers and constantly making changes to satisfy everyone. This is setting you up for failure," Malouf said.

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Even if you don't make changes to suit your customers, you need to at least acknowledge that you have listened to their feedback.

"You need to be clear on the problems your product or service solves and commit to providing the best solution to the target market who has this problem. Being all things to all people is a receipt for failure in business."

Carnival Cruise Lines Australia learnt the hard way that listening to your customers and acting on their advice is the secret to success. When they launched in Australia, they worked hard to prepare for the first cruise, including changing menus, adding waterslides and providing Aussie beer and wine.

Jennifer Vandekreeke, Vice president Australia, Carnival Cruise Lines told HuffPost Australia the team was convinced the Aussies had a fabulous time.

"They were so happy, engaged and easy going on the cruise. We were confident we'd be ranked first in the fleet! Imagine our surprise when the survey results came back and we learned we had rated at the bottom. So, we really dug into the feedback to determine what we needed to change," Vandekreeke said.

For six months, the head chef watched carefully to see what was ordered, and what came back to the kitchen uneaten. He got rid of the heavy sauces, added pumpkin and rocket to the menu and dropped the sugar content in the desserts by 40 per cent.

Carnival Cruise Lines
Jennifer Vandekreeke, Carnival Cruise Lines Australia, said they learnt the hard way how important it is to listen to your customers.

"Apparently, Aussies don't have as big a sweet tooth as Americans. And the guest feedback scores jumped up. We added twice as many daytime and evening activities, many specifically for families as we found Australian families love to spend time together," Vandekreeke said.

"We also rid of most of the lounge chairs on the top decks as our Australian guests don't lie out in the sun. They'd rather get stuck into all the fun and games around the ship. And the guest feedback scores jumped up."

Coffee was the toughest task, as Aussie guests had complained about the quality of their favourite beverage.

"We changed the machines, we changed the beans and now we have the top barista school come onboard regularly to hone the skills of our onboard baristas. And the guest feedback scores jumped up," Vandekreeke said.

After six months of hard work – listening, adjusting, listening again, adjusting again – the guest feedback scores were equivalent to the rest of the 25-ship fleet. And in 2016, the two Australian based ships were in the very top of the scores for the entire fleet.

Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Cruise Lines found that Australians don't have as much of a sweet tooth as Americans, so they cut the sugar content down by 40 per cent.

"Carnival learnt a big lesson - Australians won't whinge. If they don't like something, they'll just deal with it rather than make a fuss. But, they're happy to fill out an online survey and won't hold back on the details," Vandekreeke said.

"Also, they don't mind helping out if you ask them directly what changes we should make to ensure the experience is appropriate for Australia. By asking for help, we give them permission to share their feedback about what isn't working, without looking like they're complaining."

Matt Malouf said the worst move a business can make it to completely ignore their customers.

"If you ignore customers long enough they will simple move their business to one of your competitors who can solve their problem or satisfy their desire," Malouf said.

"All feedback should be addressed but it doesn't always have to result in radical shifts in your business."

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