The perils of ignoring customer feedback, should Nokia have paid more attention to AT&T?

The perils of ignoring customer feedback, should Nokia have paid more attention to AT&T? 150 150 David Petts

It’s critical to be in touch with your customers although too often we fall into the trap of wanting to share all the great things we can bring to them, to help them in their business. What must be a two-way dialogue can become more of a monologue if we are not mindful to stop and listen.

That’s probably truer now than it has ever been, due in no small part to the enormous changes everyone has faced in the last few months with Covid-19 and its impact on all of our customers’ business and their changing needs. It’s essential to make listening to customers an ongoing process, even when you are being hugely successful, growing strongly, and enjoying significant market share. And it’s not just engineers and product people who need to listen to customers. In fact, great sales teams make it a point to listen to their customers and help identify unmet needs. If you fall into the trap of thinking all of your customer’s needs are being satisfied you end up being blindsided to what’s coming.

A stark example of this for me was the later stages of my time at Nokia. In the mobile phone world, Nokia was the acknowledged leading vendor. Market share across Europe and the Middle East was 40%, closer to 80% in China and India, and many other parts of Asia. Central and South America were also growing rapidly, with the only real gap being in the US, where Motorola and RIM/Blackberry, had taken the leadership position.

Our largest ‘customer’ in the US, AT&T, was giving us feedback on our user interface, complex menu approach, and product design. This was difficult to hear based on a long history of leading the industry with the intuitiveness and simplicity of our devices. The feedback was also discounted because it came from a country Nokia considered to be “behind” in terms of mobile phone technology and design and because Nokia’s US revenue was low compared with the market potential.

Clearly, with 2020 hindsight (pun intended), we didn’t listen well and we didn’t act on what we heard. As you may recall AT&T was initially the exclusive seller of Apple’s iPhone, the pioneer in a mass-market touch screen interface on mobile devices as well as offering simplicity and application access in an intuitive and friendly UI. And the iPhone’s rapid acceptance was a humbling surprise for Nokia.

The moral of course is always listen to your customers, even when their feedback is hard to hear or perhaps especially when it’s hard to hear.