Customer Centered – Asking the End User What Works for Them

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Peoria (IL) "International" Airport Terminal


Photo taken by David M. Williams' iPhone.
I have long been an advocate of client or customer centered service. Regardless of your organizational model (e.g., not-for-profit) or if you deliver a service or sell a product, we all have customers. Unfortunately, many people and organizations never engage the people they serve to better understand what they need and prefer and how we can best satisfy them. 
Frequently, I hear people struggle with how to capture customer input. Time of service feedback tools and snail mailed or electronically deployed surveys have had mixed results and phone surveys may be valuable, but time intensive. Observation can be great, but you wonder if what you see is accurate. Too often, we decide gathering good information is too hard and default to our best guess.
Recently, on a client trip to Peoria, Illinois, I came across this display in the airport terminal. The airport was about to embark on a renovation. Instead of the airport staff making the decision on the new seating design, they decided to ask their customers, the passengers. Lining the wall was a an example of each of the potential seating designs. Passengers could sit right down and try them out, feel how they feel, and get a good sense of what they liked. Behind each example was a number and on the wall was a place to cast your vote for the seats you liked.
This example of a customer input test is great. It was low cost, solicited valuable feedback, and sent a message to customers that the airport thinks seriously about customer opinions. How could you use a method like this in your organization to test a change and gain customer feedback?