Face-to-face interactions are mandatory if you really want to know your customers.

Top executives know that customers are more than an ID number, or a line item on a sales report. Customers are the very reason a business exists, and good customer relationships are how businesses thrive.

As a CEO, I spend a lot of face-to-face time with customers, and I think it’s something all those at the top of the company hierarchy should do.

Why? Because there’s nothing like a time with a customer to gain insight and feedback. The information gained when you engage in a good Q&A (emphasis on the “A” because it’s all about listening!) will further the relationship with that customer, and maybe help with other customers.

The first, most obvious, insight you can only have when you’re visiting a customer is actually seeing the customer in their “natural habitat.”

People behave differently in their home environment. It’s so important to see how customers interact with products, and people, naturally and without pressure. As one example, Proctor & Gamble set up a lab at the Procter & Gamble Mason Business Center in Ohio. At the oral health science ‘Insight Suite,’ there’s a two-way mirror that lets company representatives watch customers use products in a bathroom and a kitchen. It lets a team of researchers see how users really interact with the products and how they use them.

Whenever I visit customers, I ask for a tour of the plant. This is not always feasible and it gives me incredible insight. By walking through a customer’s plant I can see how they are utilizing our product, what their processes look like and I can usually spot ways if we tweaked something on our end it could make them more efficient. Walking the plant provides me with better questions to ask to get to know their business and their opportunities.

Another way I like to dive further into the world of our customers is by going to a trade show or event where it’s our customer interacting with their customers. How do they market, sell and describe their products?

There are two other times during the relationship with a customer when it’s crucial to have a conversation, hopefully face-to-face: when they first buy from you and when they decide to go to another supplier. Asking “why” at both of these points, without assumption or preconceived notions, yields exceptionally valuable information. Maybe your digital marketing campaign is working, and you’ve reached new people. On the other hand, maybe they are switching companies as the result of a new schedule that just doesn’t fit their needs.

Once you’ve really gotten to know your customers it’s important to quantify what matters to them. After I have a face-to-face conversation, I always make notes. When I see a trend, or find commonalities of needs and wants, I know it’s time to act.

Remember to use your in-house data—sales trends, seasonal shifts, geographic information—to augment the insights you gain from face-to-face conversations.

I make it a point to visit a variety of Pacesetter’s customers each year. Not only does it give me a chance to see things from their point of view, I also truly enjoy getting to know our wonderful partners.