The importance of listening to your customers – or a Christmas (birthday) to remember.

Here in Norway, we celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve on the 24th of December. That day also happens to be my birthday. So I am kind of used to celebrating my birthday without having the whole day being only about me. We also have a saying that is often used when something really great happens in your life : “This feels like birthday and Christmas at the same time”. Though I do understand the intention behind the saying I am pretty sure that the person who came up with it is not having his or her birthday at Christmas.

This leads me to a story that took place many years ago. Not some 2000 years ago but some 20 plus years ago. I was living in Oslo at the time and had planned to go “home” to Bergen to celebrate Christmas with my family and friends. I had my plane booked for the December 23rd the day we here call “little Christmas eve” or “Lille julaften” in Norwegian.

As usual there was a lot of things that need to be rounded up before Christmas at work. So I ended up being so late out of work that I had to take a taxi from the office to the airport in order to catch my plane in time. A taxi drive that would last for around 40 minutes (and cost a lot of money).

This was back in the days where we had no smartphones to look at all the time so it felt pretty natural to have some small talk with the driver on the way.

So we started talking about me going to Bergen to celebrate Christmas and stuff like that. But the lady that drove the taxi quickly changed the subject into her being a bit sad every “little Christmas eve”. And me asking her: “Why?” – really got gave her the signal to start talking.

So she told me that it was her birthday today and that it was a sad day to have birthday because everyone was so busy with Christmas that no one really had to time to celebrate with her and that many of her friends and family was so busy that they did not even remember her birthday at all. And as you all can imagine I could heavily relate to her feelings because I had experienced a lot of the same having my birthday not only on “little Christmas eve” like her, but actually on Christmas eve.

But without telling her when my birthday was I congratulated her with her birthday and said to her that I could imagine that this wasn’t easy for her. I might also have brought some wood to the fire by telling her that I guess that most of the birthday gifts she did receive probably was wrapped in Christmas wrapping and not in birthday wrapping. Again something out of my own experience.

Of course she could confirm that and went on by telling that some of her friends and family might remember her birthday some time after Christmas and then promise they would remember her next year. But when next year came they forgot her again.

The one person she could really trust around her birthday was her mother, because she always found time for her to come visit and bring her birthday gifts on her birthday. And she continued by telling that once she had dropped me off at the airport she would stop working for today and go home to celebrate her birthday with her mother.

So I spent a good 40 minutes almost only listening to her “near Christmas birthday” stories and how sad most of this was for her.

When we arrived at the airport and it was time to pay, I told her I was going to pay by card. And back in those days Visa cards had our picture and personal information like our birthday printed on the back. So as I handed her my card I told her that she could take a look at my card and find out when my birthday is. And I can still remember the horror on her face when she realised that my birthday was on, what she would consider, a “worse date” than hers. And then she started to apologise for ranting to me all the way about her situation and insisted that I would get the ride for free.

So why am I writing this on a blog about ERP systems and ERP implementations? I think that one of the most important skills we need to have as consultants is to listen to our customers “pains” as part of analyzing and get a better understanding of how we can help them and their business to perform better. So let us at least listen to our customers pain before we start about our own possible “pains” (challenges) of putting together complex setup and possibly have to write documentation of business processes and specifications for customization. So sometimes when I think some customers can complain a lot I try to think back on this taxi drive from long ago and remember that it is more important to listen to our customers than it is for us as “drivers” to talk about our self.

And with that said I want to say happy birthday to everyone having their birthday around Christmas time and and for the rest of you – Have a merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Photo by Andrea Imre on

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