Are you ‘listening’?

by Angie Garrett ([email protected]) 472 views 

The global pandemic is creating significant disruption for businesses in every industry, which are doing their best to adapt to a still-evolving new reality. Consumer preferences also are rapidly changing, and companies listening to their customers will have a much better outcome when this threat diminishes and we reach a new “normal.”

For businesses already actively working on digital transformation, listening to the “voice of the customer” is not a new challenge. Hopefully, they’ve already developed tools and processes to understand what customers are saying, doing and feeling.

Twenty years ago, businesses listened to their customers by talking face-to-face or over the phone. Today, listening to your customers is immensely more difficult — they tweet, text, chat, email, call and sometimes talk face-to-face. Or, too often, they don’t.

You might not always know what they are thinking, feeling, saying or doing, which makes it difficult to fully meet their needs. But understanding your customers’ and potential customers’ wants and needs is still the key to getting ahead — or even remaining relevant — in this new economic environment.

That’s why you need to listen to the voice of the customer, because it certainly changed during the digital revolution.

What is the “voice of the customer?” It is the process of collecting, synthesizing and amplifying a customer’s wants and needs through their own words and actions, enabling businesses to understand the customer experience and uncover insights into your products and services.

Doing so is essential to improving the customer experience and focuses first and foremost on the customer through the lens of human behavior and deep empathy.

Today, through email, text and digital analytics, feedback can be captured in almost real-time while it’s still fresh on their mind. This allows customers more time to provide extensive, thoughtful insights about any topic to gauge satisfaction. It provides a constant loop of feedback that you can react to quickly.

Only by giving your customers their own voice and listening to it will you truly understand what they’re trying to tell you, which ultimately is both what they want and what you can provide. After you start listening to the voice of the customer, what do you do with this new knowledge? I suggest always having three goals in mind:

Delight customers at every touchpoint. Get inspired. This is your chance to shine. Once you talk to customers to understand what’s painful for them about your industry — especially your business — work to solve this in a unique way that sets you apart from competitors.

This needs to include every aspect of your business, from your website and mobile app to your store, office, call center, service centers and more. It should include how you transact business to how you follow up and provide ongoing service to customers. Understanding the end-to-end customer journey helps you identify friction points, confusion and moments of truth. It also tells you what you’re doing well.

Monitor, respond and improve every interaction. Making improvements once is not enough. You need to be vigilant in your ongoing efforts to improve. Think big, act small. Make small changes, measure and get feedback, and adjust accordingly.

Hosting customer listening sessions offers valuable feedback, but don’t just talk and listen to existing customers — talk to the customers you want. Get out of the office, away from the monitors and talk to people. Discussions with potential customers could result in new ideas and designing new products, services and features based on the person you expect to use the product.

Don’t forget to listen to all sources of customer feedback, including social media and reviews. Pay attention to website analytics to see where customers are abandoning the sales process. Feedback can be harsh or confusing, but the truth is what we’re seeking.

Make it easy, convenient, fast for customers, and let them know we appreciate them. At the end of the day, all business experiences are personal. By going the extra mile to truly understand how you can help customers with their wants and needs, and by expressing gratitude, they’ll reward you with their business (and tell their friends).

Angie Garrett is the executive director of digital innovation & decision science for Arvest Bank in Bentonville. The opinions expressed are those of the author.