The power of a question
To listen and learn from customers and team members, we need to be able to ask questions – of the right kind. Spring is here, and it’s time for yet another round of Kalmar’s annual customer satisfaction survey. Some of you will receive the survey now in May, and the rest of you later in the autumn.
Often our customers ask me, what is it exactly that we do with these answers? What are we improving? What are we changing? Do we genuinely care about the comments our customers provide to us? And when we do improve something, do we actually remember to communicate this back to our customers?
The short answer is that yes, we do care a great deal about these surveys, and we do value, use and act upon the results. Our customers are generally very satisfied with our well-performing equipment and our ability to support and service their machines and operations. Interestingly – and somewhat paradoxically – the areas where we get the most feedback for improvement are almost exactly the same. In many instances, we can and need to do better with our equipment and spare parts availability. On occasion, the changes in the Kalmar organisation can be tough for our customers to follow, even though these changes mean that we are in fact working hard to address exactly the improvements that you have asked for. But we do hear you.
So how exactly does one turn the data from a survey into concrete actions that improve what we are delivering? A lot hinges around what I like to call the power of a question. I’ll admit it – we still ask too few of them.
A question is a powerful tool, when you really listen to the answer that you get, and come back with an action.
A question is a powerful tool, when you really listen to the answer that you get, and come back with an action. At Kalmar, the questions we have been asking have led to a range of such actions that will make a real difference in how we can support our customers. We have decided to established a global quality function. We have strengthened our spare parts sourcing team and improved parts availability, and this work is still continuing. We have re-established the role of the country director to provide a more immediate face-to-face contact point for our customers in their respective areas.
Asking the right kinds of questions can lead to a deeper understanding of our customers’ business, and to a true collaborative approach that can enable our customers to break the laws of gravity in your own industry. The great thing about a question is that it works equally well with customers and with one’s own team. The key, however, is asking the right kind of question. It needs to be open-ended and lead to a discussion, instead of shutting it down. “Shouldn’t you be selling more” is not a very useful thing to ask. “What are the biggest challenges you are facing right now?” or “How can we improve our role to support you” just might be.
Asking the right kinds of questions can lead to a deeper understanding of our customers’ business, and to a true collaborative approach that can enable our customers to break the laws of gravity in your own industry.
Asking good questions is a skill set that needs to be practiced like any other. It also ties closely into the concepts of coaching and shared learning. One of the most valuable experiences you can have is letting yourself be coached by your team members even if – or especially – if you are the manager.
Ask a valid question, really listen to the answer, come up with an action and execute the improvement. It’s that simple. Whether you are communicating with your customers or to your own team, this is how you learn, improve and build something new together.
So which questions, then, should we be asking you, our customers? You tell me. I’m looking forward to hearing the answer and discussing it with you.
President, Kalmar Mobile Solutions