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From our new interview series, 11 Questions about Customer Focus, here's the first one from our session with Stefan Knoll, VP Solution Requirement Management at Bosch.
Who are you Stefan Knoll?
I'm an engineer and designer with 20 years' global experience working in automotive system development and design and innovation services covering multiple areas of the business. I'm an out and out advocate of the transformation of purely hierarchical organizational structures based on status to supportive leadership grounded by value proposition and working relationships on a level playing field.
What's your current function?
Currently I am actively involved with those in Silicon Valley and the context of the changing mobility landscape. We're understanding the needs of customers (companies, not private individuals) located there and with these customers we're finding solutions together for their vision of the future.
What role does customer focus have today?
A key one. There's a lot of empirical evidence that documents commercial success correlates strongly with customer focus and a consistent focus on solving real customer problems. An example of this is the recent development by Microsoft.
What role does customer focus have in your daily work?
Similarly a key one. To do my job successfully it's imperative to not just know their goals, needs and challenges on the surface, but to really get behind their drivers. And you can only achieve the latter if you have a clear customer focus.
What do you believe the Top 3 Customer Challenges that need solving in the next five years will be?
- Positioning in a currently new forming value chain within the mobility landscape
- Sustainable business scaling beyond first products and entry markets
- Achieving profitability in new business models
What customer behavior has really surprized you in recent times or was difficult for you to grasp?
To be honest, there's been very few surprising things. Even initially unexpected behavior could be explained quite quickly after closely examining the basic psychological needs, and hence we haven't seen any surprises. Even if a company is the customer, there are still people who bring their basic needs to the office.
Product Focus vs. Customer Focus - where do you see the biggest differences and the greatest challenge?
Product focus without customer focus nearly always leads to a product failure. Product focus as a result of customer focus, on the other hand, is usually a guarantor for success.
The customer focus can clarify what the "right thing" to do is. The product focus makes sure that it's then implemented "correctly". The biggest challenge is not getting into the product focus mode too early, or not losing the customer focus during product development.
Understanding - Why? What? How? Who? etc.
Which tools are in your opinion particularly helpful?
The best tried and tested tools are still the various forms of observation and conversation.
How's customer focus lived in the company?
What's very positive is that the message has now reached everyone and customer focus no longer needs to be motivated anywhere. However, there are still major differences in the various areas of the organisation in the realization competence.
How do you evaluate the ROI of customer focus?
Yes, I'm firmly convinced that customer focus "pays off" and that the ROI is "high". However, to my knowledge, no one has yet succeeded in determining an exact ROI, e.g. with an A-B comparison. At best, the ROI can be shown quite well by the above mentioned empirical evidence.
What role does customer focus play in the future?
There will be other short-lived topics which will have just as much importance as customer focus currently does, which will overshadow it in the context of product and service development. Customer focus will remain, though, an important fundamental issue for the long-term.
What have your experiences been with StraightONE to this topic?
StraightONE has proven to be an extremely competent, constructive and cooperative partner in searching for and finding qualitative and quantitative answers to key questions about (understanding) customer behavior. In the projects realized, StraightONE has been able to contribute methodological impulses and ideas in the preparation phase, as well as to excel in the execution of activities and the summary of results.