Why listening to your customers can help you innovate

Why listening to your customers can help you innovate

There is an old saying that the customer is always right.

Though this may be a bit extreme, by and large it is a good way to run a business, especially a business with a wide span of reach and even more so for one in an extremely competitive market.

Should we ignore the customer – not likely?

Some businesses seem to have the management mindset that they have thought of everything and that nobody could possibly tell them “how to suck eggs”.

One example immediately comes to mind from many years ago when I was production manager of a major electronics manufacturer in Melbourne, and when radio paging was the next big thing, long before mobile phones.

The paging group within this multinational conglomerate gave an information session for all interested staff. Many people attended.

After the presentation the group asked if there were any questions, to which one bright spark asked if he could suggest a new way of developing the market for pagers.

Unfortunately, this hit a nerve with the presenter and they were very quick to rebuke the person with the retort, “there is not a thing we have not already considered”. As they say – “believe it or not”.

This is not a lone example

To cite another example of sheer ignorance and overwhelming self-indulgence, some time in the past I had a particular issue with a very expensive ballpoint pen that I prided myself in using. After I precisely identified the problem I then went on to find a great solution that would be highly patentable.

With this idea in mind I made contact with the overseas-based company with a view to offering my idea, their response astounded me:

“We do not take ideas from outside the company”

Yet another example is with the major so-called “expert” high profile international business publication which has much the same view and refuse to publish any material that they did not themselves internally generate. So much for suggesting to them how to split the atom – sorry we will not consider this breakthrough technology because we did not think of it.


The reader may detect that I am writing this article in frustration having just completed a phone call with one of our very biggest fast food companies

The bottom line is that I have conceived an idea for a smartphone app that could go viral and may well be a real profit spinner for the business in question. Further it will serve as a marvellous tool for promoting new products.

At the end of the phone call I was told by the company that: “They have a written international policy of not accepting or listening to any ideas from outside their business. If they want something new they will go to the market and tender for a supplier.”

This is amazing on two counts:


  1. They have a stated policy of not listening to the market
  2. How can they go out to the market for something they do not even know exists?

To quote a popular American saying: What gives?



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