Are you listening to your customers?

We all understand the power of referral business and a glowing customer testimonial. Particularly if it is from a customer who is prepared to say how you made them richer, stronger or more fabulous than before.

When was the last time one of your customers provided positive feedback in writing or publically endorsed your organization? When you received that feedback, did you acknowledge the customer?  And did you acknowledge your employee or team who were responsible for generating that positive response?

 What if it was negative, did you re-engage and thank the customer, look to involve them in future product reviews, value them in a way that acknowledges your success is dependent upon how you treat and deliver to your customers.

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I am not advocating the customer is always right and that to be a customer success driven organization it means you just do what they ask for.  This is about listening.  Listening and engaging your customers.  Expecting and respecting that they will talk about their experience with your organization with someone, and maybe with many people either face-to-face or via any of the easy-to-use social mediums.  You can’t control what they are going to say about you, but you can create an environment that makes every touch point positive, consistent and what is felt as an important engagement in a long term relationship. 

Today I talked to two business owners of very different businesses.  I asked the question of both of them to define their long term revenue model.  And whether they had defined the perfect customer relationship – what engagement model, over what period of time, to generate a defined amount of revenue and profitability.  Neither could answer and both admitted they were in the trap of thinking short term. One wanting to squeeze every possible dollar out of the first transaction and thus was focused on how many customers he could meet (in a volume X single transaction model) and the other just thinking survival so the horizon was very short term (weeks in fact).  The problem with thinking this way is that they could both see that they were putting at risk a longer term relationship with the customer and potentially putting at risk the long term viability of their business and the profitability able to be realized over a long-term relationship with the end customer.  They both acknowledged there was room for a better customer engagement model, with a relationship built and secured over the long term with the added potential to up-sell, cross-sell and value-add based on their ability to perform. Forget short term accountability – think of a longer term engagement model that requires long term accountability, and one that brings greater profitability.

 This brings us back to the customer experience, and whether you are delivering this at each touch point and measuring this in a meaningful way.

When you genuinely feel the service or quality you experience is extraordinary, you are more likely to want to thank someone.  A phone call, an email, or post something to a web forum or social network.   You will share your positive experience with those close to you.  When the experience is anything less than average, it can generate multiple conversations with anyone that will listen.  Any of you who are active on Twitter will see how quickly great service and even more so, bad service is shared, and if it communicates the point more strongly, it will include an image and provide great detail of what is wrong.  This often starts a number of those who begin sharing their similar experience.  Or what alternative solution that they found.  Rants get posted to blogs and then linked to other blogs, forums,  tweets or Facebook posts for all to read, with hot topics seeing many of those who agree or disagree engaged even further. So it moves from perhaps a series of single incidents into a customer sentiment that is hurting your brand.

 Someone’s perception of your company is their reality. Which means you can’t hide and you can’t control it.  And thus, I ask, are you listening to your customers?

Since you can’t control what your customers are saying about you or where they are saying it, you need to focus on their experience when engaging with you.

If you don’t encourage and provide a forum for them to feedback to you, then they will find or create their own.  So create that space, have the space owned by your customers and encourage active feedback (good and bad). 

Engage in some way with each and every customer who shares their experience with you – this may be through suggested reading, recourse, or just in saying thanks.  Share your appreciation for the feedback and what you did about it, not only to them but to the rest of your customer base. 

The basis of creating a community and establishing a large number of loyal long-term customers will be strongly based around how well your customers feel they are being listened to.  Whether they can see their feedback is influencing the overall customer experience, the levels or types of customer service and support, possibly even the products or services you provide.

And don’t ignore the stuff “out there” in the global social media space.  Not just what they are saying about you but what they are saying about your competition.  Today there are companies that offer tools that measure buzz, mentions of products and brands. This can provide you very early insights into what could become a big opportunity for you – either heading off a disaster or in discovering your next breakthrough.

So ask yourself the question today – do your customers have a place to talk to you? Does your business processes and culture encourage listening?  And if a customer does talk to you – how will they know they were being listened to and that their input is valued and can help positively impact your business?

You can significantly improve your business if you view every single customer as a potential evangelist and part of your extended sales organization.

One Reply to “Are you listening to your customers?”

  1. Emma has hit it on the head. In todays business world the perception about you and your company is reality. A feedback mechanism is critical to building a lifetime business engagement. Many businesses keep chasing the next transaction and don’t realize they are leaving 10 fold revenue on the table. Creating and developing new customers into champions creates your own sales force that will bring more revenue streams than ever imagined. Emma, I’d love to hear more about this topic and your experiences in how you have developed your customer champions.Julian 

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