Listening to customers

When I left school I went to work for a small IT company called Software Catalogue (that became Softcat) which basically sold IT equipment and software licences to businesses. Nothing too different or special but executed with a tremendous focus on culture, success and growth. It demonstrated to me early on that any business can be successful, even in a crowded market by just executing better than the competition. One of the demonstrations of the company’s ongoing success was its ability to win awards. Two of the awards stood out for me at the time, one was the Best Companies to Work For and the other was the Fast Track. One recognising amazing employee culture and the other outstanding sustained growth. I decided there and then that when I had my own company again I would aspire to build a business that could also be award winning and these two awards would be good measures of that success.

There are lots of awards you can go for, especially in the telecom or IT space, but for me these two are important as they have a great deal of rigour on who can enter and also are based purely on merit rather than the size of the company sponsorship you are prepared to make… Certainly in the case of the Fast Track which is purely down to financial achievement, and there are a number of hurdles to hit before you can be nominated so it was something I had to wait a few years for before applying. In the end we were in the list four times for the Tech Track from 2011 to 2014 as we grew the business. It was a great sense of accomplishment and we very much enjoyed going to the awards dinner, seeing our name in lights and the subsequent Sunday Times supplement that was then published.

The success of Fast Track and all the associated awards (Profit Track, Tech Track, Top Track etc) has been the quality of the sponsors and their founder Hamish Stevenson who must be now one of the most connected business people in the UK. He has worked tirelessly to develop some very strong sponsors who have been with the organisation for decades while keeping the format fresh and relevant. Certainly when I was invited back for their recent award ceremony in the City I was surprised to receive a personal email from Hamish the next day thanking me for my feedback that I had left on my table (they are very strong asking for input) and what he would do with it. My first impression was that must be a team of marketers responding to the hundreds to feedback forms that must have been collected on the night, so I replied saying I suspected as much only to receive an email straight back from Hamish telling me he reads all the feedback forms that night and responds the next day. Truly inspirational but also so necessary in ensuring his awards business continues to flourish and develop.

Certainly looking to our own businesses we can all do more in listening to customers and responding to their feedback. Certainly while I don’t believe in the mantra the customer is always right , I do believe better communication and explanation provides greater understanding. Capturing customer insight is crucial in developing any business but I think most of us on the receiving end of endless surveys and questions believe nobody will read or act upon the feedback. Getting Hamish’s email did restore my belief in giving quality feedback but also making sure it was asked for in the first place.

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