Books and articles that matter
By Dean Andy Boynton
One of the best books I’ve read about a customer-driven approach to business is Inside Intuit: How the Makers of Quicken Beat Microsoft and Revolutionized an Entire Industry, by Suzanne E. Taylor and Kathy Schroeder (Harvard Business School Press, 2003). In my experience, most firms are “inside out”—they decide what the customer should want. Intuit’s success comes from the fact that it invites customers in, listens to them, and embraces their ideas.
Taylor, who worked at the software giant for more than eight years in the 1990s, and Schroeder, a full-time writer, detail Intuit’s ascendance—from its early struggles to secure funding; to the development and launch of Quicken, its personal finance software; to its success. They describe its battles with and victories over Microsoft. And they explore the core values that define and drive the company to “do right by customers” to this day.
Intuit prides itself on “seeking out, understanding, and responding to customers’ needs and desires,” the authors observed. As the company grew during the ’80s, it included postage-paid feedback cards in every box of software it shipped. Employees recorded technical support calls, keeping track of the questions they answered and the feedback they received. Marketing and engineering staff members watched willing first-time customers install Quicken and use it at home. In 2003, the company still looked to customers for feedback, tracking people's satisfaction with sophisticated market research and in company testing rooms. Today, customers continue to drive products at Intuit, a company with 8,000 employees and nearly $4 billion in revenue.
Just as Intuit depends on customer feedback to improve its products and services, the Carroll School endeavors to understand the lives of the students it serves. When we learned that incoming freshmen wanted more guidance and direction, we created Portico, a first-semester first-year course that provides students with a framework from which to approach both the study of business and their studies at the Carroll School. When we found out that our students felt their academic lives were too cramped—that they didn’t have time to take classes or pursue minors beyond their management studies—we revised the school’s core curriculum. (Read about the changes in Boston College Magazine.)
Yet Boston College students are not customers—they’re more important than that. All of us at the University are responsible for contributing to their intellectual, spiritual, and social development. That makes seeking out their thoughts, opinions, and experiences all the more crucial.
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