Woodrow Wilson had it right – you don’t become a leader in your industry without first listening to your customers. The connections our customers make with our brand, their attitudes towards our products, and the many ways they interact with us are all what we at HON call the “Voice of the Customer”. It is ultimately what they want, not what we want, that drives our product development processes and business practices. But, what exactly is the voice of the customer? Let’s look at the basics.
Listening is only valuable if you are listening to the right information from the right people. Know who your target audiences are and focus your attention on them. Also, remember that customer feedback doesn’t always come straight from your customers. Spend some time chatting with your sales team after a big pitch, talk to your social media manager or listen in on a call with a member of your customer support team. Take advantage of the information you can easily find from internal employees who spend most of their time interacting closely with your stakeholders. These people often have the most unique insight into how and why people make purchasing decisions which can help you improve your products and translate into more sales for your company.
Although it sounds counterintuitive, listening in the business world isn’t always done with your ears. It comes in many different forms. You can ask customers for information directly, through techniques such as surveys or focus groups; or, you can ask them indirectly by monitoring their interactions on social media, tracking patterns in their purchasing behavior or checking in with members of your internal team as mentioned above. Conducting a big study to listen to your customers can be expensive, but even if your budget doesn’t allow a line item for Voice of the Customer research there are several free online tools to help get you started. The conversations your customers are having online matter, especially when 94% of buyers research their products of interest online before they make a purchase and the average customer checks over 10 different sources for information and reviews before they buy. Setting up automatic Google Alerts for your company, using sites like Addict-o-matic to understand how people search for you, and listening to your social media communities through services such as Hootsuite or Social Mention are just a few of the easy ways you can observe the attitudes people hold towards your brand and really hear what they have to say. (And they are free!)
The best way to listen to your customers is to find them where they already are. If your target audience is Millennials, it’s probably more worthwhile to reach out to them on social media platforms rather than through an ad in a local print newspaper. If you receive an email from a customer, respond with an email. If they call you on the phone, call them back. It gets too complicated to try to transition your conversations from one medium to the next, and adding additional steps for your customers to take in order to communicate with you only makes it less likely that they will.
This is a trick question, because the act of listening never really begins or ends. As long as you are in business with your customers, consider your relationship with them an ongoing conversation. Listen and respond appropriately, letting your product enhancements, sustainability efforts and community outreach projects do your talking for you. Just like with any conversation, once you listen you must respond. Whether you do so through words or actions, make sure you are adding value to your customers’ brand experience and always make yourselves available for continuous two-way communication.
The bottom line is that listening to your customers is crucial to your success, so recognizing its significance is the first step towards becoming a business that listens well. Accept that “leader” is synonymous with “listener”. Your customers are already talking, so you might as well pay attention! When you understand what really matters to your key audiences, your products and services are not all that will improve; you’ll be able to anticipate questions and potential problems before they happen, and get a head start on providing the right solution. The more proactively you can give your customers what they truly want, the more positively your brand will be perceived.
What are some tools or techniques you use to really listen to your customers?