Just listening to your customers is not enough


One of the great challenges businesses face is that of providing excellent customer service in the age of demanding and enfranchised customers and audiences. It’s one of the most significant conversations that businesses will have in the next few years. The rise of marketing technology has given businesses the tools to improve how they deliver customer experience - but many, if not most, businesses are struggling with how this should be done.

Much has been written about social listening. Social media tools offer exciting opportunities to discover who is saying what about your brand. The problems many businesses face is understanding how to generate actionable insight from all that listening. The mass of data generated can overwhelm marketing teams.

Customers increasingly demand to be part of a conversation with companies. Much of their experience of dealing with a brand and their judgement about how well it performs is driven by the degree to which that brand reacts to what customers and their networks are saying. We all know the pain of dealing with a call centre that can’t stray from pre-determined and un-responsive scripts.

Hearing Is Learning

Just listening is not enough - what customers say should be part of a conversation. So businesses have to hear and respond as well. One of the excellent examples of this is Brittany Ferries. Working within a very small budget they took an approach that had them focussing their listening efforts on Twitter. Each time someone made an adverse comment Brittany would get in contact with the commenter and understand what had driven the comment. More importantly, they made every effort to make changes based on those comments and to be very clear that this was what was being done.

One example of this approach was their response to people who had commented about the food on the ferries. Brittany Ferries gathered them at their headquarters twice a year, walked them through the proposed changes and improvements and allowed the previously disaffected customers to judge and endorse the new menus. For Brittany this was an excellent opportunity to understand the small details that upset people and to explicitly correct them. It was also fantastic PR.

Don’t Let A Noisy Minority Confuse The Issue

It’s also important to understand that the noisiest group may not represent the views of the majority. Social tools alone may not give the whole picture and they don’t replace traditional market research and other forms of listening.

In fact none of this degrades the value of traditional market research. There have been a number of cases where businesses appear to have been deflected by a noisy reaction on social media - often without reference to other parts of the audience. It’s worth asking the following questions:

  • Is the noise coming from your customers or potential customers? Social media loves a bandwagon and it is easy for a business to feel forced to react to the comments of people who are not, or will never be, customers.

  • Does the ‘noise’ represent the majority view? Is what’s being said backed up by evidence from other sources?

  • Do ‘they’ know something you don’t? Or perhaps this is better put the other way round - are they reacting to things whose drivers are not obvious or in the public domain?

Steve Jobs famously disliked asking for his customers’ views on new developments, believing that their innate conservatism would almost always deliver the wrong information to an innovative business. Businesses should, at the very least, double check before being swayed by noisy groups.

Not Just Social

Although listening is predominantly couched as being a thing for social media, businesses should not limit their strategy to this alone. Listening and hearing covers all aspects of customer interactions. Leaders should ask themselves if they are picking up information from all the areas that customers touch their business:

  • Customer Service - are the customer service team working to a script, or do they make a real effort to have proper conversations with customers? Perhaps more importantly, do they make an effort to capture what people are saying? Platitude-driven CS teams possibly do more damage than not having CS at all.

  • Sales - the sales team is at the coal face. Are they merely broadcasting a one-way stream of content, or do they make a real effort to have a dialogue? Again, do they capture and feed back what customers and potential customers are saying? (As a marketing leader it’s worth asking yourself how well the interface between sales and marketing is working in your business.)

  • Web Interactions - it’s not just the active modes of communication that are important (forms, live chat etc). Where a customer goes on your site and what they read is a part of a conversation and users are giving you clear messages about what they want.

  • POS Activity - what happens in your shops (if you have them)? Are staff trained to have conversations with the live visitors and feed back what those conversations contain?

A business that is doing all these things well, and especially a business that has consolidated this listening/hearing process across multiple channels is likely to have taken a huge step towards providing excellent customer experience.

Modern Marketing Should Aim To Deliver Excellent Customer Experience

In some ways a focus on listening, hearing and responding is one of the greatest changes in 21st century marketing. Customers are more vocal, enfranchised and active than ever before. Their view of a brand is heavily influenced by a sense that the brand has the capability to listen and respond effectively. For brands this is not just about reacting to social, but about a real desire to create a coordinated approach to customer experience.


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