A Lesson on Customer Perspective

Recently, Henry Schimberg (the former CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises) told me a story that illustrates a few very important lessons for business owners of any size.  Henry is a very vivid and engaging story teller, so I will do my best to do his business parable justice.

When he was at Coca-Cola Enterprises, Henry was presented samples of new packaging for an important product.  The presentation was given by a project team in a very sleek, all-white room. 

The packaging looked gorgeous and modern.

The team was clearly impressed with themselves, as were most attendees in the room.

Henry broke up the self-congratulations by asking how the package looked on the shelf.

On the shelf? The team didn’t understand.

Henry explained that the Company’s products were not sold in gorgeous, stark white rooms, but rather on crowded store shelves. What did the package look like in the environment where the customer was actually going to buy it?

Long story short, that hadn’t even occurred to the project team- they hadn’t tested the package in any store or even on a mock-up of a shelf.

Henry grabbed the package and had the team follow him to the nearest major grocery store, where they received permission to play around with the merchandising in the beverage aisle.

The gorgeous new package was put onto the crowded shelf.  However, when flanked by umpteen other beverage products- instead of sitting alone in the middle of the white room- the package didn’t stand out at all.  You could barely notice it.

Needless to say the team went back to the drawing board.

The takeaways of this story include:

  • How important the customer perspective is for every function within an organization;
  • How context can change the outcome of even a seemingly great idea; and
  • How tweaking your thinking on something small can have a major impact on your business

As you run your business, make sure to challenge yourself.  Are you evaluating your business in the middle of a sleek and stark white room or have you really thought about things from the customer perspective?