Why It Pays to Listen to Your Customers & How You Can Do It Better.

Why you should listen to your customers.

Last week, my friend called to reflect on an exchange she had with her coworker. Her team was meeting to discuss roles on a new project and the lead named her coworker, a man who had been at the company for less time and had fewer technical qualifications, as project manager. She wanted to know, “Was the lead angry with her? Did she do something wrong? Was bias at play?” My response was simple, “Why not ask him?” If you want to know more, ask for more information. Common sense, right? So, why isn’t it common practice?

Asking for feedback and truly listening is hard. It requires courage to have difficult conversations and the willingness to change in response to what we hear. It’s hard to ask a friend, spouse, or coworker, “What could I have done better in that situation?” But, in doing so, we grow and build stronger relationships. 

Listening is an equally important aspect of strong business relationships—and your organization’s profitability depends on it. For every customer who complains, 26 will say nothing, then move on to your competitor.[1]And, that churn is expensive: it costs five times more to attract a new customer, than it does to retain an existing one.[2]If you don’t ask your customers for their feedback—particularly those 26 who walked out the door—you won’t be able to prevent the next 26 from doing the same. Put simply, proactively asking for feedback, listening to your customers and taking deliberate action will benefit your bottom line.

Listening to your customers can also drive topline revenue. Compared to new customers, existing customers spend 30% more. Returning customers are also a great source of insight into new product/service opportunities. And, they’re 50% more likely than new customers to try those new products/services and provide feedback.[3]

How you can listen better 
It’s not enough just to hear what your customers say. Active listening means demonstrating you heard what they said andyou’re doing something about it. When working with clients, we often use the refrain, “We asked. We heard. We did.” It’s a simple way to remember that active listening is not complete until you share out what you asked, what you heard, and what did with that information. 

There are many ways to ask for feedback, and you’re probably already doing some of them: 

  • Customer feedback surveys are the most common method. After every Delta flight I take, I receive a survey that asks me to rate my experience on a scale of 1 to 10 and then answer a few short follow-up questions. Typically, these questions are multiple choice, which enables automated analysis on the backend. These brief online/phone surveys are a great way to amass a large quantity of data on user experiences and objectively pinpoint high-level strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Focus groups are a great tool for gathering subjective information about your organization. For example, let’s imagine Delta’s customer survey identifies a weakness in the customer experience of the boarding process. Delta may then choose to conduct focus groups to better understand why the boarding process is a pain point for its customers. Typically, an organization will conduct a survey to objectively identify major trends and then use focus groups to delve into those trends. 
  • Social sentiment analysis, the aggregation and analysis of social media posts, is a fantastic way to get unprompted feedback from your customers and other key stakeholders. Recently, we partnered with Sparkloft, a social media agency, to analyze how visitors and residents perceive a top destination in the U.S., identify strengths and weaknesses in these perceptions, and capture opportunities to improve perception. We captured more than 8 million posts about the destination over a two-year period. These posts yielded a wealth of valuable insights about what visitors and residents truly care about. This information enabled our client, the local destination marketing organization, and its partners to specifically target resources on those activities most likely to have an enduring positive impact on perception.

There are also a number of ways to show you heard them:

  • Restate what you heard from your customers. In day-to-day interactions, train your front-line staff to always repeat back what they heard from customers during an interaction. When rolling out a new product/service feature, make it a priority to connect that rollout to feedback from customers.
  • Send a thank you note when you receive feedback from your customers. In addition to the typical personalized, automated email that comes after completing a survey, consider making some thank you notes public. For example, if you receive a great idea from a customer, post that idea with a thank you on social media.
  • Showcase your customers in your communications and marketing. Delta recently launched a customer spotlight program that profiles customers who hit major milestones with the airline. Not only is it a way to thank those individuals for their brand loyalty, but it demonstrates the value you place on your customers to each and every person those communications reach. 

Consider these ways to act on feedback across your organization: 

  • Each day, empower your front-line staff to resolve the bulk of customer complaints promptly. Eight in ten customers will leave a company after a negative customer service experience, so a delayed response can be costly.[4]    
  • At regular intervals, look at feedback trends and assess your customer journey: Has it changed? How is it evolving?  What are the implications for action?  
  • Every three years, when you refresh your strategic plan, consider using a customer journey map and service blueprint to ensure your decisions are customer-centric. You can read more about the process of customer journey mapping and service blueprinting here.

Active listening can and will change the course of your relationships. My friend took my advice and set a meeting with the project lead for the following day. She started from a place of curiosity, asking simply, “Can you share more about how you made the team role decisions for our new project?” What she heard surprised her. The lead had seen my friend working late recently and noticed her logging extra hours to redevelop one of their core product offerings; he thought the redevelopment work was imperative and simply wanted to ensure she had the capacity to focus. Not only did this conversation resolve a one-time miscommunication, but it enabled my friend and her coworker to explore how they could better communicate and collaborate in the future. 

At Coraggio, we specialize in helping organizations listen to their customers, synthesize what they say into actionable insights, and identify key strategies to leverage strengths/opportunities and address weaknesses/threats. Contact us if you’re interested in exploring how your organization can better listen to and act on customer feedback.