I bought a new pair of shoes recently. For some of you, this may not seem like such a big deal but for me it is, and it has been my entire life. Born pigeon toed, i.e. the toes point inward when walking, I wore corrective shoes until I was in the later years of elementary school. Those huge, clunky leather shoes with lacing and all sorts of special stuff attached inside and out did not make me a fan of shoes. As a child, I was known to take off my shoes the minute I entered the house.
Furthermore, having one foot bigger than the other and really wide feet didn’t help. The whole process of buying shoes was not my favorite thing to do mostly because they rarely fit well. However, once I found a pair that fit well I was all smiles and sunshine.
The most recent pair that I bought did not follow the normal process. Usually, this involves the measuring of my feet and all sorts of comments about them being different sizes and such. Then comes the line of boxes and trying on different sizes. Pair after pair go by the wayside until I find one that barely meets my expectations.
This time however the salesman asked what kind of shoes I was wearing and I told him, “Dress Rockports size 12 wide.” He looked at my shoes and then asked, “Do you like them?”
“Yes,” I replied. “They are the work horses of my business attire. Shirts and ties come and go. These Rockports have stood the test of many miles.”
“Good. Let me get you a new pair in brown and a new pair in black,” he responded.
Moments later, he came out with two boxes, one stacked on the other. I took off my shoes and he pulled out the black pair. Then, he handed me a shoe horn. I started to smile. I haven’t seen a shoe horn in years. My Dad had one when I was very young and I tried it a couple of times. Never really thought too much of it other than the shoe horn was an old man’s tool. Still, here I was with a new pair of shoes so I thought to myself “Why not?” and used it.
Wow! My foot slipped right in and the shoe fitted perfectly. I was amazed. I used the shoe horn when trying on the other pair and it happened again. A perfect fit. I looked at him and didn’t know what to say. My wife, Jane, was with me and said, “the black ones look quite nice on you. Why don’t you go with them?” So, I bought them and asked if I could get a shoe horn, too. Now I use a shoe horn every day when putting on my shoes. It is a metal one, not very fancy but it sure makes a difference when putting on shoes.
I was in a meeting recently where major decisions about the future of a company were being made. All sorts of big ideas were being bounced around. Numbers, charts and graphs were every where on the walls. I listened for quite a bit and finally asked, “Has anyone talked to the customer about what they want and need? The voice of the customer is an important part of this process.”
You would have thought I had said “the emperor has no clothes on and he is ugly.” There was a pause as people pondered the question and then the answers came forward with more charts, graphs and statistics. I smiled and thought of Mark Twain when he said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The voice of the customer was not part of the discussion.
That is why in part I want to travel this spring with my shoe horn and bring it to every strategic planning meeting. It is not because my feet are weird or old. It is not because I am a luddite in love with ancient technology. It is simply a reminder of a fine shoes salesman who asked me “What kind of shoes are you wearing? Do you like them?” In the midst of planning for the future, taking the time to listen to the customer can yield valuable information. They may surprise you with what they know.
Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257