Podcast Episode 78 – Four Questions Leadership Teams Need to Ask Customers


Some of the best intel for leadership team members comes from customers, and some of the best customer data becomes available when leaders talk with customers directly. In fact, if they’re not asking the right questions, leaders could be missing out on 70% to 80% of the most valuable information they could have.

Surveys are good, but you can’t rely on surveys. You need to have leaders talking to customers.

This week, Brad and Kevin share the simple system of 4 questions that every leadership team should ask. They discuss why it’s important, and how to implement this valuable practice in your business.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.

Brad Giles  00:13

Hi there, welcome to the growth whispers where everything that we talk about is building enduring, great companies. My name is Brad Giles. And as always, I’m joined today by my co host, Kevin Lawrence. Hello, Kevin. And how are you doing today?

Kevin Lawrence  00:27

I’m doing great Brad. Actually, I’m set up in a new spot, kind of a new location. So like a new mini studio. So I’ve been scrambling around today to set up and everything’s working. I worked so hard to make sure I had all the things I needed, and I forgot one part. But thankfully, there’s a store about 15 minutes away that had the part I needed. And so I’m good. grateful that people stock every electronic gadget you can imagine

Brad Giles  00:53

close by. Okay, too. Hey, are good. Yeah, I’m good. I’m good. I had four days, four days in our Southwest, beautiful part of Australia. and came back last night here for recording today. But yeah, just spring in the southwest of Australia is a very, very special, a special place. So um, yeah. And so to me, we always like to start with our Word of the Day or phrase of the day, what is on your mind?

Kevin Lawrence  01:27

Mine is winding down, are summer is ending. It’s getting colder, darker, early, or? Yeah, so it’s kind of like winding down. Transitioning from summer to fall. But I don’t like the idea of winding down, transition. That’s my word.

Brad Giles  01:49

Awesome. Awesome. And mine would be slightly related to today’s episode, customer feedback. So the place where I stayed, there’s a QR code on the wall. And you can use your smartphone. And it’ll take you to a Google form. And it just asks you some simple, some simple questions about your style in a way that I hadn’t seen before. So yeah, customer. Yes, customer feedback, is what I’m thinking. So winding down customer feedback is the mash.

Kevin Lawrence  02:27

Interesting. We’ll take that. Alright. We actually want to wind up customer feedback, which is actually what we’re talking about today, which is a beautiful transition into today’s topic, Brad. So why don’t you tell us what we’re digging into today?

Brad Giles  02:41

Yeah, so we’re talking about four Q, or the four questions. And this really is a part of customer feedback. And what if we take a step higher than customer feedback, what we advocate is that leadership, team members have a qualitative and quantitative point of data from both customers and employees. So we’ve got qualitative and quantitative from customers. And we’ve got qualitative and quantitative from employees. And that should frame all of the leadership teams thinking because you’re getting real and accurate feedback. Now, the quantitative often takes the form of something like a net promoter score, or a customer satisfaction score, some kind of number base that we can work on, whereas the qualitative comes from actual conversations with employees and actual conversations with customers. And so that last point is what we’re talking about today. The four questions that we advocate that you as a leadership team member, talk with customers about.

Kevin Lawrence  03:59

Yeah, and this is a serious problem in a lot of companies is that it’s wonderful when companies start to get data on employee engagement, and customer satisfaction. The problem is, is one you can get lost in the numbers in two union really got to hear their voices. So you know, the people that created the Net Promoter system for employee and customer satisfaction. You know, they say consistently, it’s the system, not the score, mean the system, you got to read the comments and hear the feedback. So I was in a meeting this week in the US. It was nice to be back in the US again. But I remember we were getting some they some of the best data on reporting customer and employee satisfaction where they’re at by location, everything was really great data. The challenges is we didn’t get any of the comments, or the commentary. So basically, we got the scores, but we didn’t get the specific trends of what People were loving and loading or you know, concerned about or gaps. And it’s so what happens is, is executives try to fly by number too much, some don’t fly enough by numbers, they don’t have enough data, but some over rely. And I just finished a really good book this week by the CEO of Best Buy. And he was the CEO who turned Best Buy around, and his name is Herbert jolly, I believe. And the book is called the heart of business. I got both of those things, right? That’s awesome. A really good one of things he talked about when he turned around Best Buy, is he went and visited stores. And in stores, he watched and learned because he was new to the business. And he talked to people and talk to the associates. And he learned a ton about what the needs were and understood the business better now. That’s great. And some people might do that in the beginning. But some of the best executives and Steve CEOs stay connected, not through data and reports, but directly at the front lines and what they end up doing. And we see this all the time. And this is why for cue was invented, people just play office too much. They’re too busy administering the business and working on stuff, which is their job, but there’s not enough time directly connected to employees and customers. So today, we’re going to talk about directly connecting with customers and what people should do.

Brad Giles  06:31

If you don’t connect with customers, you make decisions based on perhaps not a full suite of information. So let’s dig in and just clarify, what are the four questions that we’re talking about? The first question, how are you doing? So this is really just framing, framing the conversation in the way that the conversation will be completely about the other person? So how are you doing? Now you can as a recipient of that question, say, Oh, well, I’m good. You can make it really, really quick. Or you could immediately jump into, I’m terrible because your systems suck. Or

Kevin Lawrence  07:20

you could find out the other dog just died, or they just got a puppy. Yeah, it’s like, it’s a human connection point. And this is this for Q is a mini system. So it’s a way to just, you’re gonna learn all kinds of interesting stuff, you might just connect, or you might get something incredibly relevant that will relate to your conversation.

Brad Giles  07:40

Yeah. And then the second question is what’s going on in your industry/neighborhood now, that’s obviously contextualized, for b2b or business, to business type sales or business to consumer type sales. And there could be something that’s happening in your industry, if you’re B to B, for example, we’ve got massive demand, and we’re having supply chain issues, or it could be anything at all. But that’s another point of data that you can take back to the leadership team equally, in terms of your neighborhood. Yeah, they could be something that’s happening in your neighborhood that’s relevant. So we’re trying to mine for any of the data that we can.

Kevin Lawrence  08:27

And they’re experts in their neighborhood and experts in their industry, and they’re going to know stuff you would never have a clue about. So you’re tapping into their core expertise, and what they spend their days living and breathing that you can get from them in two minutes.

Brad Giles  08:44

Next, is the interesting the third or four questions, what you hear about our competitors? Now, we don’t have any other opportunity to ask this. And wouldn’t it be interesting to take some of these answers back to our leadership team? Now? I’ve been running these questions for many years with leadership teams. And sometimes recipients will say, Well, I don’t think that’s really appropriate for me to answer. Okay, no problem. It’s just a survey that I’ve been asked to ask you,

Kevin Lawrence  09:16

but many will have and many will have lots to share. Yeah,

Brad Giles  09:21

but other times, we’ve got some amazing, amazing insights. I heard that they’re shutting down. They’re such and such operations. I heard this starting up this, some people are more than willing to share something about our competitors. That can be fantastic info. And then the fourth, and arguably one of the more important questions is how are we doing? And this is qualitative. So it’s not just a number, because that’s where we can really begin to get the insights. How are we doing?

Kevin Lawrence  09:56

Yeah, and again, these so basically the four questions How’re you doing? What’s going on your industry or neighborhood? What do you hear about our competitors? How are we doing? And the challenge is, a lot of people will just go to Hey, how are we doing? Yeah, are we taking good care of you, but you miss all that other scoop that can help you. That other stuff helps you as an executive, more than it probably helps you with that specific customer right there. They’re helping you with your Intel. So you know what happens and the challenges because we said earlier on, people are so darn busy, they don’t do this. And when they do go and get a chance to talk to someone at one of their clients, doesn’t even know what to ask. And these four questions are great. So you could be the CFO, and when you’re talking to their CFO about something and whether it’s on the way to a meeting or at lunch or on a call. You know, it could be anyone that you’re talking to anyone in your organization talking to their organization as a nice little simple check in. And it’s a wonderful, wonderful way to do it. Now. Notice I found some points, I want to talk about it. But the first real main reason why this is important, it’s you know, is that I call it not playing office or playing office too much. Brad calls it leaving the ivory tower. But the idea is the same is just it, get out there and get the goods get a real pulse of what’s going on. Because what happens is people become way too insular. If you stay inside. If you go and talk to a bunch of customers, you can’t help but pick up on different things and have different thoughts and ideas.

Brad Giles  11:43

Yeah, absolutely. And these, these questions are framed, as you said, like this for a reason. It’s all about them. But the other thing, it hasn’t been polluted by other areas, such as marketing, because marketing could want to get ahold of this and say, How about if we change the equations? What about if we asked about something about our new product or something that and then suddenly, it’s gone from four questions to 11 questions, and no one wants to answer 11 questions that are about your product, because all of these questions, importantly, are about them. And so when we’re talking about leaving the ivory tower, you know, if we’ve got a CFO, for example, on our leadership team, this person would very rarely get to interact with customers. And so then when we’re meeting, as a team, they don’t really have that depth of experience in directly communicating and understanding what the customers want. But the important point is that it can be quite uncomfortable for some people to have these types of conversations. So an option around that is to have the CFO at our company, talk to the CFO, at our customers companies. So having them talk to the relevant person in customer companies, which is a little bit hard, admittedly, in a retailer in a b2c area. But we want to get people outside of the ivory tower, we want to get people to be actually communicating with customers, there was a retailer that I worked with, and they hadn’t spoken to customers in this sense for, I would say it would have been about 10 to 12 years where the leadership team had actually gotten out. And they made a whole range of assumptions. And so we set a quarterly target where we had to have 13, four q conversations, each leadership team member, at least one per week. And the insights and the way that we change the business was remarkable.

Kevin Lawrence  13:48

Yeah, because you’re more in touch with what the customers want. Again, the business exists to take care of a customer. Yeah, which is kind of the third point, which is understanding what’s important customers cuz you’re gonna hear from them. And whether it’s in a retail environment, a business to business environment, doesn’t matter whether it’s in a boardroom, or the bathroom, or the boiler room doesn’t matter where you’re picking up stuff. And it’s just it keeps you super in touch, because you’re listening to them directly versus thinking about yourself. The second one, so the first one is leaving avatar. Second is validate your strategy. This is also a great way to pick up some intel of what customers are thinking about you and thinking about your competitors, you know, understanding their perceptions. And then you could also even once you’re in a conversation like this, it’s an opportunity to run some other things by them, you might be thinking about, like, Hey, you know, based on what you’ve said, How would you feel about this, right? Because you know, you’re into a, you’re into the conversation, you can use them as a sounding board as they are, if they’re part of the buying decision, or the one of the users of whatever it is that you have to offer. You can get some additional until it’ll help you

Brad Giles  15:00

Yeah, understanding, you know, what is it that matters to our customers, you know, the data that we can pick up through that is, is really, really variable. Obviously, that leads us on to the next one, learn about the industry. Because sometimes people in a leadership team may not have worked for many of our competitors, or the industry may have evolved, and they haven’t got some of those insights. So it’s easy to think about this as a singular. But I think about another team that I work with, and we’ve done it for, I would say, four or five years, every single quarter, we’ve gone out, and we’ve had at least one or two 4k conversations in preparation for our offside quarterly. And the stuff that we’re learning. It’s really affected the priorities that we set and the strategy that we said, because we’re learning sort of up to the minute Intel about the industry. Yeah.

Kevin Lawrence  16:02

And we don’t have enough time to learn all those things. I was in a conversation just over the weekend. And with a with someone who I just met at an event. And I was asking them questions about their industry, that and what’s going on out of personal curiosity, the amount of stuff I was learning about some changes and things that were happening was out standing. And I am curious by nature, so with new people, it’s natural. It’s those existing relationships. And as we do this, I’m just thinking, I had a conversation with one of the CEOs who work last week, and I should have used the darn for cue questions, I was just checking in how things were going, we’re talking about things. And I should have asked them and I didn’t, I missed the opportunity last week, it wasn’t top of my mind. So hopefully, for those of you listening, it’s going to be a good prompt for you. This is not rocket science. But when you’re next with a customer have a chance, some great questions to answer.

Brad Giles  16:58

say, Oh, it’s important about that is it this is structured feedback. So we’re forcing leadership team members to talk to people, which is important, but then we’re forcing them to listen. So because those four questions are all listening questions about them, and then document them, and then share them on a regular basis with the leadership team, for

Kevin Lawrence  17:19

sure. The next one is learn about competitors. And again, as we’ve touched on a bit already, but there’s no it’s sometimes hard to get information on your competitors. And or it’s sitting there waiting for you, you just have to ask, like a lot of things. When you meet a human being, you could ask them 1000 different questions. And whenever you pick will set the tone of the conversation. And so so if you miss that opportunity, there’s great competitive Intel awaiting you all the time. You just got a prompt it and there’s things that your competitors are doing that are good, or not good. And just don’t being able to see and hear what’s going on is incredibly valuable. Again, not rocket science. It’s just it’s a great opportunity to dig into it, rather than having it randomly show up occasionally.

Brad Giles  18:06

Yeah, what if? What if we had enough of our four key conversations come back with what you know, what matters to us is on time delivery. And that was all that was in there. If you heard that once, or if you heard that 40 times, that’s going to affect your business, because it’s real time feedback from a diverse enough group of customers, or anything else. Now that could be coming, because they’re saying, What do you hear about our competitors? Well, you know, they are really focused on being on there on being on time delivering having network. Yeah,

Kevin Lawrence  18:46

yeah, or they’re doing something around pricing, or they just lost some key people. Or there’s, you know, one of our clients, we heard with a competitor, we heard that there was a president, a vice president of a division that was loved by his people and the industry. And we heard that he had left. Well, it became a recruiting opportunity. We don’t know where he went. But we know that he left him and we were able to in the end, we couldn’t recruit him. But we were able to hunt him down. And then it also gave us a chance to go and directly contact some of his sales people because he was leading the sales team. Because we know when a key leader leaves, people get a little bit loosened up sometimes and some people are more willing to leave, especially when there’s a leader they loved. So that little bit Intel that I’ll make it up that Frank was leaving the business. Frank was amazing, tried to recruit them, but then we were able to contact some of those people because they would be the most open to hearing from us they ever would have been. Again, just little things like that.

Brad Giles  19:54

Awesome. And then I guess number six is learn about our performance. How are we doing? That it’s such an open and vulnerable question that it invokes trust and you have to as a customer, you have to respond to that. You have to say something, it’s very hard to say, well, you’re doing good, if you’ve been really, really let down, and you’re thinking about going to another competitor, or transferring some revenues. It’s great to have accolades, but we don’t want the accolades here. What we want is, you’re doing really good, but this person named Bobby in sales. He’s, he’s this, he’s got no fans in this firm, I’ll tell you that. Yeah, needs to go.

Kevin Lawrence  20:42

And that’s the stuff that you need. And you might not always get that in a survey. And it’s also the fourth question. So you’ve already talked about a whole bunch of things, and they’re warmed up, and you’re more likely to get as long as they’re not in a hurry, more likely to get more goods as the conversation goes on, and people settle in. So the main point here is, it’s not rocket science, people just, you know, with great intentions, get busy playing office or doing their jobs, and forget to reach out and talk to customers. It’s also a little awkward for some people to do it unless they’re in sales. But this is a structured way to get and push the team to get back into the market to see what’s going on, and understand and get a much better grip. So I’ll review the overall so the four key questions. Number one, how are you doing just checking in with the human and how they’re doing? And what’s going on? Those lots of points of connections that often come out about what’s going on in your industry or neighborhood, depending on the situation? What do you hear about our competitors? That’s a very juicy question with lots of Intel in it, how are we doing? and not being afraid to dig in and get some more details about specifically what they like or what they don’t? And then on those questions, Brad, you want to run through the six kind of different perspectives there? Yeah.

Brad Giles  22:02

So why are they important? Number one is to leave the ivory tower, we want to get the leadership teams out of the ivory tower where they’re only talking to one another, we want them to get some actual physical feedback from a customer verbally, not on a survey, not on a survey, or validate your strategies. Number two, so this helps us to understand that our strategy is working or isn’t are the things that we’re starting to change are actually resonating. Number three, understand what’s important to customers. Because if we think that quality is what matters, and all they tell about is on, tell us about is that things have to be on time, then then we should be responding and understanding and digging deeper into that issue. Number four is to learn about the industry. We don’t know everything about our industry, we have different perspectives and different experiences. So we will continue to learn about what’s happening. And of course, they’re not number five, which is learn about competitors. We’re understanding what are our competitors doing by asking that question number six, of course, is to learn about our performance, to learn about how we’re performing the last question, and what can we do better? Always mining for gold in that area? Good chat today. Good chat. Yeah,

Kevin Lawrence  23:24

it is. It’s just a basic discipline that people don’t do enough of including auctions. I caught myself not doing it last week when I could have and should have. And like Brad said, the thing that we’ll often do with teams is to push them to go and make it a challenge over a quarter to go gather a whole bunch of feedback, particularly leading into a strategy session. And that way, if everyone’s do it, it makes it a bit more palatable. And you know, nothing like a little peer pressure.

Brad Giles  23:50

Yeah, isn’t it? You know, surveys are good. But we can’t rely on surveys we need to have leaders talking to customers. So thank you for listening to the growth whispers I hope that you’ve gained some value today. As always, we’re talking about building enduring great companies. That’s what we talk about all the time. You can find the video version of this on YouTube, just by searching the Growth Whispers and of course we’re on all the good podcast channels. So thanks for watching and listening today. We hope that you enjoyed it and we will look forward to chatting to you again next week.