The Kula Ring

Customer Feedback Lessons from The Kula Ring’s First 100 Episodes

The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.

Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.

The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.

To celebrate 100 episodes of The Kula Ring, co-hosts Jeff White and Carman Pirie share lessons from remarkable podcast guests on customer feedback across the manufacturing enterprise. They reflect on insights from Greg Palmer, Director of Marketing at National Nail, on how to develop a customer-centric approach to product development and marketing. They share thoughts from Tim Bay, Head of Digital Marketing at Fellowes Brands, on how his team leveraged customer feedback to introduce new products. Finally, the co-hosts talk about digital transformation in light of comments from Augie Ray, Senior Research Analyst & Executive Advisor of Customer Experience at Gartner, Inc., on how marketers should focus on CX and customers’ unmet needs.

Customer Feedback Lessons from The Kula Ring’s First 100 Episodes Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White. 

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, another special episode today. 

Carman Pirie: Yes. I believe it’s episode 101. 

Jeff White: Yes.

Carman Pirie: Which, occurs to me that we had a hundredth episode that was our lessons from the first 100 episodes, but that would actually technically be our lessons because we didn’t have an episode zero-

Jeff White: That’s true. 

Carman Pirie: So, it would have been our only lessons from the first 99. So, this whole thing has gone pear-shaped. But I think regardless of-

Jeff White: 101 just doesn’t have the same ring to it. 

Carman Pirie: One thing that we’ve been doing with these episodes, it’s been very instructive to me and helpful in going back and kind of looking at some of the key lessons that have emerged and the patterns that we’ve seen over the first hundred or so shows, and today we’re going to kind of dive into another one. Episode 100, we talked about account-based marketing and what’s emerging there. Today, we’re going to examine those lessons surrounding customer feedback and listening to customers that came from the first 100 shows, and three shows in particular, actually. 

Jeff White: Yeah, and we’ve actually talked about the idea of customer feedback in a number of different shows, and I think these ones that we’re going to feature have some particularly interesting lessons that emerged and practices that others might like to implement. 

Carman Pirie: Spoiler alert for our listeners: I often get frustrated in discussions about customer feedback because it can seem loosey-goosey when you ask people what they do, how do they actually formalize the process, what was the actual result from it. That’s why conversations about customer feedback have frustrated me sometimes. But our guest in episode 56, Greg Palmer from National Nail, he kind of nailed it, didn’t he? He really showed us a great example of how listening to customers and taking a customer-centric approach to your product development and marketing and showed us a very specific and concrete example of how that went from idea and implementation through to actual new product creation and innovation.

Jeff White: Yeah, and I think what’s particularly interesting about Greg’s work at National Nail and what he’s enabled is that he’s also fostered a culture within the company as a whole to be very accepting of customer feedback and very interested in hearing about it. Everybody says that they listen to their customers and that they act upon what they say, but Greg and his team would actually take the ideas and the recommendations and the criticisms of their product and bring that to engineering and say, “How can we make this product better for our customers?” 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Let’s hear it from Greg’s mouth, I guess. 

Greg Palmer: Well, what we’ll do is we often get feedback from customers, because they know that innovation is so important to our company, always coming up with new and better ways of doing things, and so we’ll have customers sometimes contact us, give us a call, or we’ll be at a show, or just with our neighbors, and they’ll say, “Yeah, it’d be better if I could do it this way or that way.” And so, we start learning from customers, and in fact the EDGE clip and EDGEX clip for Camo, we came up with that because we were talking to customers and our competitors have clips that put down for groove decking, but you have to do a two pass. You have to partially drill it into each one of the joists, and then shove the board in, and then go on the other side and partially drill it, and then go back and drill it again. 

And we’re talking to customers, they’re like, “Yeah, it’s just it takes so long.” It’s like, “You’re right, it does. What if we develop a tool or a fastener that you don’t have to pre-drill it? You just put it on the joist, it hugs the joist, like two legs go around the joist, shove it right into the groove and then you could put them one down at a time, then do the next one, the next one. You could do multiple rows. Then you use the drive tool and just put them all down.” And they say, “Yeah, that’s great for perpendicular 90-degree decking patterns, but what if you have an angled deck?” Well, then we came up with the EDGEX clip, which actually hugs the inside of the groove of the board, so it’s really joist agnostic. It doesn’t matter which way the joist or the boards are laying. It could be at any angle and it’ll still go down. 

It’s those types of things that make it much faster, much easier for customers, that we saw how everybody else is doing it and going, “There’s gotta be a better way.” And then we came up with one. 

Carman Pirie: There’s a number of things that are interesting to me about the endeavor of seeking customer feedback and using it in the way that they do at National Nail. And I guess the thing that comes to mind sometimes to me, Jeff, is that you’re not looking for statistical significance, necessarily. It isn’t necessarily that type of feedback that you’re seeking. You’re kind of seeking hunches, and these kind of, “You know what? This might work better.” That type of nuanced feedback that can lead to innovation isn’t always the stuff that comes from thousand-question surveys, as it were.

Jeff White: That’s right. Yeah. And I think you could try and lead via the thousand-question survey, but I think one of the things about that, that makes it problematic, is that it then reduces the feedback to just the will of the many. There may be gems of an idea somewhere inside of that, but oh, we got 40% of people said this, so that’s what we’re gonna actually fix, or that’s what we’re gonna work on next. But you know, while valuable, because obviously 40% are looking for it, when you’re doing that more kind of one-to-one feedback with customers and hearing their ideas and taking the good ones to engineering, you’re really putting your money where your mouth is. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. And not just taking the good ones to engineering, but actually having engineering working with the customers in a hand-to-hand way directly. When you have smart users of your product working with smart creators of the product, innovations come out the other side of that. 

Jeff White: Absolutely. I mean, it’s kind of the racing model. The racing bike or the racing car gets better because the people who use it every day in a professional situation make recommendations on how to make it faster, better, whatever. And I think too, the other thing that Greg and his team have done particularly well is to then leverage those same customers who, in more consumer-type situations might be called influencers, and have them help create content around the product to help them launch it at trade shows, rest in peace. But overall, just really bringing those people through the whole process from ideation, to creation, to testing, to marketing and sales, and leveraging their knowledge and sometimes good name. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I guess it’s probably why we’re highlighting Greg at the start of this show, is that he really put a lot of meat on the bone, as it were, around customer feedback and how it can extend across the enterprise, so certainly encourage our listeners to go back and have another listen to episode 56 featuring Greg Palmer. He’s a wealth of knowledge and a fantastic example. 

Jeff White: Absolutely, and another episode that we had even earlier than that was with Tim Bay of Fellowes, and we were talking with Tim about this very kind of thing, about how they leverage customer feedback to improve their marketing, and you have a ton of experience in the product area that they brought to life. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that?

Carman Pirie: We talked to Tim about a chair, an office chair that Fellowes brought to market, so for folks who think of Fellowes, you may think of even going back to the banker’s box. They invented the banker’s box. 

Jeff White: Yeah. A hundred years ago. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, so it was interesting to see them move into the office furniture category with a new chair. It was interesting for a number of reasons. They really wanted to take a workplace wellness approach to how they were going to market. They saw the chair as a way to embody that in some way. I would say that’s the area of contract office furniture that oftentimes has seen the most innovation. I mean, a lot of, be it Haworth, or Steelcase, or any of those kinds of bigger players, Herman Miller made a whole brand around the chair. 

Jeff White: Yeah. The chair is the playground for them. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. So, to choose to try to out-innovate the category leaders in seating was I think a really interesting choice. The way they addressed that challenge and the way he took us through it and how it connects to customer feedback really is how they listened to the customers in their initial launch of that product and then pivoted both the messaging and in some ways the messaging vehicle for communicating the chair’s innovation. 

Jeff White: Absolutely. Let’s listen to Tim tell us about it in his own words. 

Tim Bay: I think for us, too, it’s also about learning. This is a new product. It’s a new product to the marketplace. There’s been a tremendous amount of information that we have learned as we put it out in the marketplace, as we got feedback from people, and that allows us to continue to refine our messaging and make sure that the things that are most important, most critical, that value proposition is getting out there. For us it’s a little bit of seating, right? We’re seating this thing out there so that way as other channels make sense, and folks are ready to embrace that, that we can say with confidence, “Yeah, we really feel like we know how to communicate this in a way that makes sense and resonates with people.” 

That’s for us, it’s as much about that as it is about trying to generate direct revenue. Because I think again, from a brand perspective, we’re always gonna need folks outside of our ecosystem to support what we do. More people, the vast majority of brands sell way more off their direct-to-consumer experience, off their website, than they do on their website. Especially if you look at other than the multi-billion dollar big, huge brands. That’s always gonna be important for us, so it always has to be that sort of and, not a direct-to-consumer or something else. It’s always an “and” for us. 

Jeff White: As you were mentioning before we cut to Tim’s clip, it really was the case that they needed to learn, through the development of the product, what the things were that they needed to focus on from a marketing perspective, you know? A unique product, uniquely designed in a sea of innovation, really, and they still created something that was completely different from everything else that came before it, and they realized as a result of that they needed to explain that it was still going to have the same kind of quality and durability as other competitors in that space. 

Carman Pirie: Folks, when you go on and look at the Elea chair, which I encourage you to do. Just go check out, look for images of this chair

Carman Pirie: You’ll see that the active seating mechanism of the chair is… I mean, it’s very cool, but it’s held together by basically what looks to be four rods in some way. 

Jeff White: Yes. 

Carman Pirie: You could see how a traditional, or if you just showed that to somebody, how they may hesitate to say that that’s going to apply across my workforce, that’ll work for everyone, that’s a great idea. They would need to be convinced a bit. There’s a lot of obvious benefit to that freedom of movement that it provides. The way they pivoted to talking about the strength and durability and communicating it via video I think was also interesting. They really made that determination early on in getting feedback from the customers that they needed to show and tell a lot more. 

Jeff White: Absolutely. And the choice of video is interesting, too, especially in this space, where there often aren’t a lot of videos. There may be demo videos and things like that of how these chairs operate, but the one that they created actually does a great job of both showing the strength and integrity of the product, as well as the sexiness in it, which makes it different and interesting. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. And the other side of it, too, that they had to kind of address, is this notion that they were actually going to market in a very different way. The contract office furniture category has a pretty standard way of going to market via contract office furniture dealers. It’s a bit dare I say clunky in some respects. When they introduced the chair, they introduced that you could buy it direct. Not only are they coming to market with something that somebody might perceive as, “Eh, is that gonna be strong? That gonna work?” Then they’re also buying it direct in a new way, so the way that they addressed that was to really emphasize like a 30-day hassle-free trial, as well as the free shipping. We see that in the consumer categories all the time, but it was interesting to see that kind of almost Zappos-level approach come to a B2B transaction here with Fellowes. 

Jeff White: For sure. And I mean the B2C experience in a B2B marketplace, that’s one of the lessons we’ll actually be talking about in an upcoming hundred episodes review because it is a really interesting topic and there are many B2B marketers who are bringing that level of understanding and that level of desirability of a consumer-quality experience, and you’re right, it’s quite interesting that a 100-year-old family-owned manufacturing business has chosen to truly innovate in both delivery and in product development. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. You can certainly see on the marketing side that Tim brings that sensibility to Fellowes, I believe, and I think the site for the Elea chair is a pretty good example of that. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Quite lovely. 

Carman Pirie: I like how we’ve actually kept going earlier as we look at this, so this is episode 26, so we started from 56, and they’re all sixes, which is really odd. Episode 26 featured Augie Ray from Gartner, and look folks, you all should really follow Augie on Twitter, I should note. 

Jeff White: This may not be for everybody. 

Carman Pirie: That’s true. But nevertheless, we will link it up just in case you want to go check him out on Twitter. But Augie, he brought a timeless lesson to the show, didn’t he, Jeff? 

Jeff White: Absolutely. And I think it’s worth mentioning that Augie’s title at Gartner is VP Analyst of Customer Experience for CX Marketing Leaders. He has a niche focus on that customer experience and what has become quite an interesting movement in the CX world, and so he has a very unique set of skills and he also is a kind of a unique person when it comes to applying his thinking to marketing. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Let’s hear from Augie. 

Augie Ray: It resonates with me, but you might be preaching to the choir a little bit. The thing that I think is important at the end of the day is that so much of what drives marketing and everything else in the organization become very internally focused. We talk about the outside-in view, the focus on the customer. And the brands that have really succeeded, I mean the brands that everyone wants to be, the Amazons, and the Apples, and the Costcos, and the Starbucks, started by having this very strong outside-in viewpoint of what customers wanted and needed. What were the unmet expectations? What were the gaps? What’s driving satisfaction and dissatisfaction? 

If all we focus on is having our email team focus on maximizing email open rates and click rates while the product team focuses on only initial sales, let’s say, or trial, and not necessarily longer-term measures of loyalty, and if all marketing is focused on is acquisitions and clicks and conversions and inbound traffic, nobody’s thinking about the customer. 

That’s really ultimately what this collaboration is about, is to make sure you have the user research, make sure you’ve got the data, the customer feedback, voice of customer programs, for instance, to provide a flow of information so that you can always be evaluating what’s driving satisfaction and dissatisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy, and ultimately to make sure you’ve got that outside-in viewpoint. 

And in fact, one of the topics I know you wanted to discuss today is digital transformation. So, very great example of this. What happens is organizations go chasing after the next hot thing. They read that something is big and they chase it, and they chase the technology first, and then they launch something in the technology, and then they ask themselves, “Now, what is the problem this was intended to solve? How are we going to measure it?” What you need to do is the opposite. You need to understand what customers want and need, what unmet expectations are, and then evaluate the technologies that will help you to do that. 

If you do it in that order, you focus on the customer, thus you are much more inclined to launch something that gets adopted. You also understand the measures right from the start. And so, we look back on the history of sort of digital marketing. How many organizations have a Second Life island that they needed to launch because it was a hot topic, but they never know what to do with and as a result they probably still own those Second Life islands? How many brands launched social media accounts? Many that have been forgotten and are probably stagnant. You can find thousands of those sort of zombie accounts on Twitter and Facebook, and it was because everyone was doing social media. They didn’t think about what do customers want out of social media, and in fact one of the things customers want is responsiveness. They want answers. They want customer service. And the data would demonstrate that brands still do a very bad job of this. They tend to think of social media as another broadcast channel, not as a channel to listen to and understand and respond to customers. 

Now, it can be expensive. There are challenges in scaling that. But it’s an example of that inside-out versus outside-in. And ultimately today, one of the things that we see is that everyone talks about voice being the future, and one of the very typical situations that I work with my clients today is that they’ve launched an Alexa skill that gets zero or almost zero use. And it’s because they got excited about the technology rather than thinking about what customers want and need and whether it provides it. A really good example is all the banks raced in to providing Alexa skill, so that you could interact with your bank using voice. Now, the question I ask is how many of us stand in the middle of our house and want to scream out our account balances or have them screamed out so that our family hears them or our neighbors hear them? How many of us want in the middle of watching a television show to have our Alexa announce that we’re overdrawn, right? Using voice is not the way that we interact with our banks. 

We walk up to a teller and everyone stands behind a line so we can do it privately. We walk up to an ATM and there are blinders on the ATM to make sure that people can’t see what our account balances are. This idea of using voice to interact with your bank, now clearly behaviors may change at some point in the future, but for now, it’s a solution in search of a problem and that’s the problem with innovation, and that’s the problem with digital transformation, is it needs to start with what the customer wants and needs. 

Carman Pirie: So, you know, as so often happens with the folks who are the best in their craft is they’re able to boil things down to the very simple but timeless lessons. And Augie takes us through that notion of making sure that you have that outside-in viewpoint, and not just chasing after technology for technology’s sake and seeking a problem for it to solve later, and a way to measure it later, but starting from the customer first. I can’t imagine that there’s anybody listening to the show, Jeff, that would disagree with that.

Jeff White:  Probably not. Maybe if Gary Vaynerhcuk was listening. He might disagree, but he’s not listening. 

Carman Pirie: Gary’s not listening. But at the same time, I think we would all, if we looked ourselves in the mirror, we would admit yeah, we’ve kind of made this mistake before. 

Jeff White: Oh yeah. No, I mean video’s gonna be huge, man. 

Carman Pirie: As somebody who’s currently working on a video series, that one hurt just a little bit. 

Jeff White: Yes. True it is. 

Carman Pirie: But nevertheless, I guess we would be wise to take the timeless advice that exists here. And the other piece to Augie’s thinking, and something I guess I’ve seen that runs a bit contrary to something I see a fair bit in the manufacturing space is Augie talks a lot about having ongoing evaluations, voice of the customer programs, et cetera, that give you an ongoing sense of the satisfaction, dissatisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, et cetera. And that’s quite a contrast to what we see often, which is we did a voice of the customer program in 2018. 

Jeff White: So, we’re good. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, and to be fair, that’s probably more recent than a lot of their competitors did when somebody says that, but at the same time, we’ve talked before on the show about the idea of thinking about something not as a project, but as a product of something that lives, and evolves, and is ever-present. 

Jeff White: And needs to constantly be managed, and improved, and considered.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly. And I think that would be a real takeaway that I would take from Augie, is to say think of your voice of the customer programs, the customer feedback mechanisms that you’re putting in place, the data that you’re capturing and analyzing along the way, and really do think of that as an ongoing, ever-evolving product or initiative, if you will, rather than a project that has a start and a stop date. 

Jeff White: Yeah, and I think one of the things that he did mention was that a lot of these new tools, if they do have any function, it’s not for you to go out and be just blasting out messages, but they are an opportunity to truly listen and gather feedback in a more real-time environment than doing a thousand-person voice of the customer survey in 2018. Being staffed, and ready, and prepared to receive this feedback is as important as choosing which channels you use to communicate with your customers on. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I love how he talked about the Second Life island. That was a good blast from the past from him, wasn’t it? 

Jeff White: Oh man. That is one thing I have never seen. 

Carman Pirie: I don’t know if I ever, back in the early agency days, if I ever talked a client into doing a Second Life thing or not. I mean, I’d have to go back and search old hard drives for the term or something. 

Jeff White: Maybe it’s on your Ning site. 

Carman Pirie: Which I have talked people into. 

Jeff White: And me. But you know, it was all in good fun. 

Carman Pirie: Yes. Indeed, indeed. And quite useful, I might add. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: But look, it’s been great to look back on the lessons around customer feedback and how they apply across the manufacturing enterprise. 

Jeff White: Absolutely, and if any of our listeners have feedback about this episode or ideas about how you enable feedback in your own organization, send us a note, or leave a note in the comments on LinkedIn. We’d love to hear from you. 

Carman Pirie: Well, I think that’s a great place to end it. 

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at www.paintcole.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.

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