Keep focus on customer to develop winning product, strategy


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How well do you listen to your customers?

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How well do you listen to your customers?

Last April, I described the importance of “product” in a winning game plan. The focus of the article was the disconcerting packaging for Strubs pickles. Now, I like Strubs pickles… a lot! Their pickle container had been changed from a vertical glass jar to a horizontal plastic tub. After contacting the company, I was told that the package was changed for shipping purposes. Clearly company-centric thinking — not customer-centric thinking.

The main issue I had was that the new package was tough to open without spilling pickle juice all over my counter. When I contacted the company about this problem, they provided a short video to demonstrate how to use the handle end of a butter knife to open the tub. Ironically, the demonstration video intending to instruct me on how to carefully open the container showed pickle juice spilling out of the container! I vowed to never buy Strubs pickles again because of this package design.

Well, they have a new container.

And it only took a year.

So, I bought the new container to discover the value of the improvements in the packaging and whether it was enough to win me back as a customer

When I opened the new package, it was evident that the main problem remains — difficulty opening the container without spilling some juice.

To say I was underwhelmed would be a, well, understatement. I am not sure that anyone other than engineers with advanced degrees were used as “test subjects” to determine if the new design solved the problem. And I am certainly not convinced they really knew what the original problem was. (Even though I described the situation in my correspondence to a customer service representative last year). The fact that the package remains a horizontal structure implies that the company’s focus was on maintaining shipping efficiency versus customer convenience. This is not how a winning game plan works.

So, the big question is all about your primary focus on the product you create and the service you deliver to your customers. Is it designed for your company (easy to ship)? Or is it designed for your customer (easy to open with no spillage)?

This distinction can be the difference between winning and losing your customer. Consider this carefully and ensure your entire organization is focused on being customer-centric; both from a strategic perspective as well as an operational level.

Here are a few questions for you to consider as you formulate the product component of your winning game plan. First, do you know how your customer uses your product? In this case, how is it stored in a fridge? While a change in packaging may make it easier to ship, it may actually take up more space – in a fridge. You must be careful about putting anything on top because there is no indication about the load-rating for this plastic lid. And it could also lead to a real mess if the container leaks in the fridge.

Next, do you know how your product is provided to your customer? Is it shipped direct to their business or home or through an intermediary? What do all the transfer points consist of along the journey from manufacturer to end user? How much and how often is it handled? Are there special requirements to minimize breakage or other damage?

Third, have you actually watched your customer use your product? In their home or office? It can be done. This is an important research aspect for your winning game plan because it is not a laboratory setting; it is real life. People often respond in certain unrealistic ways when answering a survey question relative to their actions in their daily lives. This is why it would be instructive for Strubs to watch their pickle purchasing customers open the new container. You cannot see a person open the container in a survey.

Finally, how do you collect all these insights? And most importantly, how do you assess and then apply your learnings? In Strubs’ case, did they do any research and/or focus tests with people opening the containers that could be shared with everyone responsible for the design aspects of the pickle container? Leading companies will take these steps and ensure actual insights are shared, and not just theoretical survey responses.

Every leading company has a winning game plan that includes the 4 Ps of marketing — product, place, price, and promotion. And their 4 Ps are focused on delivering superior value… as determined by their customers.

Tim’s bits: Often, what may seem trivial to companies are the most important features for a customer. Therefore, be diligent in listening to your customers and learn how they use your product and what they truly value. These coaching tips will help form your winning game plan… because I would hate to hear that your incorrect focus has left you in a pickle.

Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant, authorized by law, and a Fellow of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Manitoba.

Tim Kist

Tim Kist

Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.

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