By Kathleen Hosfeld
By a small miracle, I took part in a recent phone survey conducted on behalf of a local grocery chain that has recently built a new store in West Seattle, where we live. I say it was a small miracle as I’m usually screened out right away because of our work. For some reason, they didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell.
As a result, I offered what I hoped to be really helpful information for the survey. I was somewhat taken aback when the interviewer called me again minutes later to say that some of my answers “didn’t fit their categories,” and her supervisor wanted me to please provide responses that fit their categories.
What they wanted to know is who had the 1) best bakery, 2) best produce, 3) lowest prices. The answers that I gave that didn’t fit their categories had to do with sustainability. One of the things I told the interviewer is that I choose my grocery stores on how easily I can walk to them. I told her that organic produce was important to me. One of the things I would also tell them – but didn’t have the chance — is that I choose my grocery store on its citizenship, its support of local farmers, and the amount of local produce it offers. None of these criteria fit their survey. Within walking distance of my home, I have three stores that offer great examples of these qualities. They have great bakeries and good produce. One has low prices.
I realize that I am what they call an “outlier” – someone not in the mainstream. (Or maybe I am in the mainstream but no one is measuring what matters to me, so there’s no data to back this up.)The lesson for companies: listen to the outliers. Give them a chance to give you an answer you don’t expect. By ignoring the unusual, you may be ignoring the new paradigm that will change your industry forever. You may be ignoring a chance to see where your market may be going before it’s too late.