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If You Were Me, What’s One Thing You’d Change About My Organization?

This question is designed to take the conversation to the level of specific action. This is the What would make us better? question, with teeth. You’re asking your customer to express the thoughts and ideas they had while waiting on hold, fighting to get an invoice corrected, or shaking their head over one of your policies. You’re asking your customer to tell you the truth, and that’s a big deal. An even bigger deal is what you do with the answer to this question. Listening and asking for clarification are acceptable responses. Explaining why you can’t or won’t try the suggestion isn’t.

A note of caution. If you ask a customer this question about change, don’t be surprised if your customer asks it back at you. What would you say? And if this original question-and-answer session turns into an ongoing dialogue, you may find yourself facing a partnership waiting to happen.

Actually, you’ll have better luck asking this question of a customer who considers you a partner rather than a vendor. As the world of business has gotten more complex, customers are looking for the opportunity to work with their suppliers instead of just buying from them. Working together in a partnership relationship, seeing the world from a broader viewpoint than either one of you could ever envision on your own, allows both parties to gain. These partnerships go beyond the traditional working toward a win/win situation. They exist to create. Create new ways of going to market, new ways to solve problems, and new ways to define success.

Partnership carries with it the desire for two-way feedback. In fact, the only way partnerships work is when both parties are willing to make the commitment to a continuous stream of feedback–what’s working and what’s not. Terry McElroy from McLane Company is quoted in Dance Lessons: Six Steps to Great Partnerships in Business & Life by Chip Bell and Heather Shea as saying, "We are constantly asking ourselves, `Are we doing business at the level we want to? Are we worthy of this partnership?’ And we want partnerships with people who ask themselves those same questions." Another set of good questions.