What is the Best Lesson You Ever Learned from an End User?
19 Aug 2020
Serving customer needs is the goal of most commerce in the physical security market. Understanding those needs requires communication and nuance, and there are sometimes surprises along the way. But in every surprising revelation – and in every customer interaction – there is opportunity to learn something valuable that can help to serve the next customer’s needs more effectively. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What was the best lesson you ever learned from a security end user customer?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my 20-plus years working in the technology sector is that you can spend months, if not years, carefully marketing and positioning a product a certain way only to find out that your customers actually use it in totally different ways. Case in point: A very large producer and distributor of agricultural products installed our access control solution not only to manage door access but to understand the occupancy requirements of their global property portfolio. Using our unified solution, they correlated their access control and ALPR data to analyze the movement of people and vehicles, building space usage, deliveries, visitor flow, etc., This enabled them to make better use of their facilities, ultimately saving them millions of dollars a year! So, don’t expect your products to be used precisely as intended, and make room for your customers’ creativity and delightful innovation.
The best lesson I learned is that end-user feedback can lead to critical new features. All you have to do is listen. Case in point: following a spell of robberies, one of the largest jewelry chains in the US decided to deploy our “Virtual Security Guard” systems with live video surveillance and two-way interactive audio. As we reviewed the system’s capabilities, one store manager asked: “If a robbery occurs and I’ve activated my wireless panic button, how do I really know you’re watching? It wouldn’t be safe for operators to “voice-down” over the system’s speakers in the middle of an armed robbery.” At the jeweler’s request, we instituted an audible chime feature to let the staff know when we are watching the store and listening without unintentionally escalating a dangerous situation. That one question led to a core feature in every Virtual Security Guard system we build today.
Never make any assumptions regarding an end user’s business even if you have provided solutions into that market and vertical many times previously. The question assumes that end users of our technology are “security” end users; however, whilst security may often be the initial driver for a discussion, the technology provides so much more. Asking open questions and by using the most effective tool we have, our ears, so much more can be learned about a prospective business, not just current problem(s) that may have initiated the meeting but also their future plans and aspirations. What might have started out as the need to solve a problem can become a whole business improvement solution. In the sales commercial training we offer to our partners we greatly encourage this “business solution” mindset rather than “security-only” mindset based on the business intelligence the technology now enables.
One of our dealers called me to order some full-height turnstiles for their customer, a large municipality in Florida. The customer wanted a stainless-steel finish. I found out the installation site would be a coastal, saline environment. I said it was a very bad idea and to talk the customer into an aluminum finish instead. The dealer went to the city board and they would not change their mind because they wanted the turnstiles to match other stainless items, and they didn’t want to wait longer for the aluminum turnstiles to be built. So, stainless steel was installed. And, within a matter of months, the finish of the turnstiles began to rust. Now I always push for aluminum for outdoor environments. I am in the Southeastern United States. It is tough when you have a reseller AND a board of directors – but I have learned to stand my ground.
I have come to realise that it is too easy to underestimate the skills and knowledge your business has when it comes to trying new things. As a case in point, a few years ago TDSi was asked by an existing customer to help them develop sensing technology they were advised to employ by their government. My initial reaction was that we were flattered but it was not something within our comfort zone. However, the customer was insistent that they believed we had the right expertise and knowledge to help them, and that is exactly what we did. It is amazingly easy to become blinkered and to put your business’s abilities within artificial confines. Our customers often have a more holistic view from the outside looking in, something that gave us a valuable lesson in believing in our abilities and challenging ourselves to evolve beyond what we have achieved before.
At the beginning of a career in security – or any career for that matter – it can be difficult to remember to listen to what your customer needs before presenting a solution. At times we can focus on the product features and benefits, without taking into consideration the needs of the customer. This can lead to an overwhelmed customer, as they attempt to digest all the information you’re presenting to them. Instead, if you begin with discussing their needs first, it’s a much more streamlined and painless process to find the suitable solution for their specific project. Additionally, it’s easy to get carried away using industry terms, but keep in mind that your customers aren’t used to some of your lingo and jargon. Adjust your conversation by using clear and simple terms to describe the solution.
Innovation and technology enrich our lives and are viable facilitators of information in speed and scale. All companies, old and new, rush to develop the next “must have” features to differentiate their offerings. Not long ago, video surveillance was a network predominantly closed to a select few of individuals charged with maintaining security. In that environment, I was tasked with assisting a supermarket in need of surveillance. Diligently, I walked the floor, marked my blueprint, and engaged with the manager regarding areas of concern. I was surprised to find my quote had been rejected outright by the end user himself. Their reasoning? Technology. They viewed my offering as competitive but outdated and the IP solution as innovative though very pricey. As it turns out, there are different types of buyers (Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, Traditionalists). While I was technically correct, I missed the mark when understanding my buyer.
The best lesson I ever learned was to never assume you know what the customer needs. After you have done some cursory research on the business and their operations and applied your own years of experience, it is natural to feel you know what they need. It’s entirely possible you’ll get it right too, but there’s no substitute for asking a ton of questions about how the end user plans to use the system. It’s tempting to immediately start mapping out camera locations and creating a list of equipment. Taking time to discuss the business at a high level, what comes in and what goes out, and truly understand their operations can reveal completely new insights on the challenges they need to address. End users have different needs, levels of comfort and complexity that must be factored into any system design. A thoughtful approach is key to truly successful deployments.
Over the years, we have learned that proactive communication, even when it is hard, is of the utmost importance to customer relationships. The security world can be complex, and end customers want partners they can rely on to navigate the complexity. For example, in the delivery phase, there will be delays, pricing surprises, quality issues and misunderstandings. Often the temptation is to take a bet, wait it out and hope there is a good resolution. The motivation for this is simply to avoid unnecessary conflict and an angry customer, but it usually ends up achieving the opposite result. The trouble is that by the time this bet comes into port, it’s often too late for an alternative resolution. Early and often communication with end customers for anything that potentially threatens a deliverable or other expectation, is always the best bet. When handled properly, it offers an opportunity to build trust.
Our Expert Panelists report a variety of lessons they learned from end user customers. Among them are: Don't assume you understand the customer’s needs. Be open-minded to customer creativity. Don't underestimate your company's capabilities. Stick to your guns when you know the customer is wrong. Listen with an open mind and understand the buyer. Communicate with customers early and often. Together, the responses provide plenty of food for thought as the industry seeks to maximize our ability to serve end user needs.
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