If it matters to the customer, it should matter to the business.
Organizations should listen carefully to what their customers say in order to better meet their needs; it’s a win-win.
Listening is a simple concept… or is it? Actually, no matter how much businesses might recognize the importance of understanding their customers, many fail to listen to “us” (as consumers) directly. Sure, many companies will put together surveys to collect data and “listen” in that way. However, collecting feedback in that manner is not the only or the most important way to listen. By going beyond an obsession with surveying for feedback and instead listening actively and broadly, avoiding “leakage,” and implementing other tactics, companies can be more effective.
Why customer surveys do & don’t work
Having a systematized way to collect feedback may be one-size-fits-all and in a different category from listening during a conversation, but these responses do help businesses. Six reasons that companies should poll customers and listen to their feedback, according to Client Heartbeat, are:
- Useful in development of a product or service, shaping it to meet customer needs;
- Helps you to know how satisfied your customers are;
- Gives you guidance to craft a more powerful customer experience;
- Helps create better retention (keeping rather than losing customers) through better information about their frustrations;
- Offers insights so that the organization can ground its decision-making in data rather than guesswork; and
- The business can find out who its “brand ambassadors” (customer advocates) really are.
Now, those arguments for customer surveys seem compelling. But many point-of-sale surveys are poorly constructed, according to a study by Interaction Metrics (which notably, like Client Heartbeat, is a survey company). The 2016 analysis assessed the surveys used by 51 major US-based retail corporations, rating 15 different aspects of them. The average result out of 100 possible points was an abysmal 43! The most interesting specific finding, revealing a primary reason that companies are so bad at these surveys, was that they tend to be manipulative: “32% of all questions led customers to give answers that companies want to hear,” noted Interaction Metrics.
Surveys are used to generate “customer-experience metrics.” Customers want to be heard of course, but the term customer-experience metrics should already raise eyebrows in terms of treating customers like they are numbers. Even if these metrics are not a replacement for strong individual listening, businesses can have difficulty with them. Many companies have a hard time determining how customer metrics relate to their activities. Plus, it can be difficult for businesses to get their staff excited about metrics since they are so impersonal and often fail to give insight into sudden shifts in customer sentiment.
Businesses often cannot decide whether they should focus more on metrics that have to do with customer relationships or sales. (We choose the former.)
These metrics can also be skewed because the people who complete it will not necessarily give a business a good sense of its average customer. In Forbes, Todd Hixon suggests that the subset of customers who answer surveys can be an issue, suggesting that respondents are:
- People who are not highly active;
- Older customers; and
- People who are irritated and want to vent.
Hixon also says that key demographics including millennials and mobile users are probably not represented well.
Beyond issues with the information collected, the process of applying feedback from customers is difficult for businesses too. According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, one of the primary reasons that businesses fail with listening in this way is that they “don’t have the culture to loop customer feedback through the front line to improve behavior or connect it to innovation.”
The importance of listening actively & broadly
To explore the topic of active and broad listening, here is the reasoning behind each element of that effort:
- Why listen? You can find evidence of the sound value of listening within the business world in the classic organizational management text The One Minute Manager. This book, published in 1982 and authored by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard, suggested that the #1 way to create engagement among personnel is to set aside time to listen to them. While this book is about employees rather than customers, its high valuation of listening is on-point as it notes that it’s a way for managers to relate with people individually and make sure that they know their work is appreciated.
- Why listen actively? If surveying customers can be viewed as a rudimentary and flawed effort at listening, active listening is a way to refine this skill. This technique is helpful in therapy sessions, and it is helpful in business as well. When we listen actively, we do not focus on throwing in our own opinion or solutions (unless requested) but instead repeat back what we think we have heard. This practice is an effort at clarification; if what the listener repeats back is at all flawed, the speaker can correct the message.
- Why listen broadly? It’s not just about how we listen, but who we listen to – and our attitudes impact the extent to which we are willing to hear someone’s point-of-view. Being open to people means that you can keep revising your understanding of the world, explains therapist Rena Pollak via healthy psychotherapy network org. Pollak notes that it is important to remain flexible because our ingrained perspectives are often based on biased perspectives, misinformation, and control, such as when our parents instill in us their own insecurities, telling us that all women are liars or that we will not achieve our dreams.
Leakage: why listening cannot be faked
If you are trying to put on the front that you are paying attention to what someone is saying, but you really aren’t, you may leak out indications that you do not care, says Jeff Thompson, PhD, in Psychology Today. Thompson writes that “leakage, or unintended non-verbal communication” cues that give away when we are not listening are self-touching, eye-rolling, fidgeting, failing to make eye contact, and paralanguage or back-channel communication – the last of which Thompson summarizes as “huffing or audible noises and that teeth-sucking noise.” Seriously.
How companies & people can listen more effectively
Beyond being open to various speakers and listening actively, here are three additional steps you can take to improve the way that you listen:
- Be prepared. If you are underprepared, you will be more focused on understanding the basics than on deep problem-solving.
- Listen with both mind and body. Our bodies actually help to determine the way that we think, according to the notion of embodied cognition. Move your body so that it is positioned toward the speaker, nod, and look into their eyes.
- Self-monitor. Pay attention to yourself and ask yourself if you are listening in the moment. Also pay attention to whether you are conveying to the other person that you are listening – since their perception is ultimately the deciding factor in your ability to make them feel heard.
An honest boulder auto mechanic
Are you interested in working with a car mechanic that values listening to you? At Independent Motors, we believe great service starts with open, honest communication, in what we say and how well we listen. See our beliefs.