In a recent post Customer Satisfaction from The Little Big Things – Restaurants, I described the book ‘The Little Big Things’ by Tom Peters, co author of ‘In Search of Excellence’. This book covers 163 blog posts written by Tom along with some other summaries. It is full of good advice, mostly for corporate executives of large to medium organizations. One chapter (#112) focused on Listening and all the value an organization derives by listening to its customers and employees.
Why is Listening important?
1. Listening is the ultimate mark of Respect. If customers care to let you know about a problem, something they are happy with (which you need to continue to do) or their dissatisfaction, there is no greater way to show customers you care, than to listen. In a social media world, that could even be comments like “I hear your pain, let me see what I can do for you”.
2. Listening shows that you are kind and thoughtful.
3. Listening and responding is the key to working together or as Tom calls it ‘ Collaboration’.
4. Listening is the basis of communication. Before you can respond to an objection or a problem, you need to understand it first, in depth.
5. Failure to pay attention to customer feedback can be interpreted as ‘lack of interest’, rudeness, callousness and aloofness.
6. Failure to listen can be lead to lack of trust and customer defection.
7. Listening helps with employee morale. It they feel management is listening, and communication flows both ways, up and down the organization, the employees at the front line are more tolerant of frustrations and more willing to try a bit harder to please customers or meet any other management objective.
The suggestion in Tom’s article is that Listening should be articulated as a core value by management and published in statements like
“We are effective Listeners – we treat Listening EXCELLENCE as the Centerpiece of our Commitment to Respect and Engagement and Community and Growth”
In this statement, Tom is referring to both internal communications with employees and external communications with customers and suppliers.
2. What is Listening?
This is an interesting question. In Customer Satisfaction terms, listening is paying attention to all the messages customers send to us, through the sales force, management, customer service organizations, surveys, blogs, websites, and social media. We need to really understand what customers really mean when they provide feedback. It could involve analyzing service requests and questions and comments. If the organization runs customer satisfaction surveys, listening would be reviewing all the survey data including comments.
When I worked at IBM, one of the survey results was telling us that customers felt our software was hard to install. The software development division didn’t know what to do with that information. They didn’t think the Software was hard to install at all. They needed more information. So they came back to the customer satisfaction department that more data was needed.
That could have resulted in the creation of a new customer survey to obtain more details, then launching the survey, getting the results and bringing them back to the Software developers. All this could have taken months.
Instead, it was suggested that the developer and his manager each spend some time with a customer, watching them go through the steps the customer needed to do to get the software installed. After a few days trips like this to a customers, spending several days watching how an installation was performed, the Software developers and their manager, understood the nature of the problem much better. No questionnaire could have been prepared that would have provided the information needed. A questionnaire can only be created when there is an understanding of the problem in the first place. Otherwise it is hard to ask the right questions.
There is nothing like working side by side with customers, watching how they use or consume your product or service and letting them tell you and show you it means to them when things are going wrong or when things are going right.
3. How to Listen
There are many techniques organizations use to listen to their customers.
a. Talk to the people on the front line, sales reps, sales management, customer service reps, and support reps. They know about the problems customers are having.
b. Call on customers. Engage senior management to make courtesy calls on the largest customers. Get developers out to visit customers. when the customer says something you don’t like to hear, ask why. Ask what the implication to the customer if something goes wrong. It is the hardest time to listen but the most crucial.
c. Conduct customer satisfaction surveys. There are many different touch points that can be measured. See this blog post for some examples.
d. Monitor Social media for customer comments, positive and negative (there are many many tools, some free, some fee, that aggregate what customers are saying about you.)
e. Analyze the data. What is working well? What is not working well? Are there any specific customers that are more affected that others, split by many possible factors: revenue level, geography, and / or demographic information such as age, marital status, etc.
f. Ensure a formal review process on a regular basis. Hot items should have a process to reach senior management quickly, should a social media crisis need management attention. Otherwise, regular monthly, quarterly and annual reviews should be scheduled.
4.What to do next?
According to Tom Peter’s book, the Little Big Things, the ROI from listening is higher than from any other single activity.
a. Get started. Develop a listening strategy as part of your customer satisfaction strategy.
b. Pick some listening strategies, from the how to list above. Be sure front line exposure to customers is part of your listening strategy.
c. Set up a review meeting in 30 days, 90 days and 6 months. Gather the data and ensure you understand the feedback from customers. (how do you or your staff really know what the implications are for customers.
d. Engage with customers to resolve the problems .
e. Ensure your customer satisfaction management system uses the data gathered from the listening process to fix repeated problems and avoid what can be prevented.
To quote from Tom’s book: “Listening underpins….Commitment to EXCELLENCE.”