Listening to Your Customers: What to Do with What You Hear?

In my recent post on this blog entitled Moving Beyond Customer Engagement to Advocacy: First Step Listening, I talked about the importance of listening to clients before you make important strategic decisions, and bringing their insights into your planning process.  Successful companies find that these are in fact two distinct practices, and the second – bringing insights into your strategic thinking – can be even more challenging than the first hurdle of learning to listen.

Say you do get really good at listening to clients:  you implement surveys, you develop a Customer Advisory Board, you hold customer events, and you track their comments in the social sphere.  And your customers respond with lots of ideas, comments and input.  The question then becomes what do you do with what you hear?  The most interesting or impactful insights will fall on deaf ears if companies fail to establish a process and a culture to make sure that everyone who needs to hear things is able to do so.

Few companies have a great process to extract and funnel important insights and feedback from customers up to the C-suite from across the various channels and contact points.  At the same time, executives who spend valuable time one-on-one with clients, or leading a Customer Advisory Board often have a hard time filtering what they learn out to others who could benefit – such as the product designers, or project team leaders, or even the company Board of Directors – and the insights fail to drive change.

The challenge is one of people, process and tools.  On the tools side, CRM systems provide a shared repository, as long as people are incented to share and update the right type of information.  Going beyond today’s CRM systems, the possibilities of analyzing customer insights are expanding exponentially with new tools and programs appearing every day designed to turn the spiraling amounts of customer data into valuable information.  But the best tools won’t help an organization get better at making use of customer insights without the processes and practices in place to share information across silos and then take action where it matters.

While the challenge is big to make all those things happen, it’s fine to start small and get people listening and acting on the information.  Here are a few ideas marketers can use to get customer insights embedded in the internal conversations you have across the company.

  • A customer moment – one habit that gets people thinking is to start every meeting with a customer moment.  Share one piece of insight or advice you’ve collected, one idea you have heard directly from a customer.  If you are attending someone else’s meeting ask if you can start with a moment to share.  If you have a standing meeting, assign team members the rotating task of tracking down a relevant story.  These insights and stories can come from anywhere in the organization and you don’t have to change the agenda or plan a big conversation – just get in the habit of hearing a customer’s insight before you get down to business.
  • A plan to share – create a standing opportunity for the senior executives to report on what they learn from their conversations and interactions with customers.  If your company runs a Client Advisory Board, set up a quarterly call with your sales reps and client service leaders to hear specifically what has been learned.  If their customer visits are more sporadic, carve out a portion of a standing meeting where sales reps and client service leaders get together to highlight what people have heard.  You may need to do the leg work to translate what they heard into consumable insight, but it will be well worth the effort.
  • A customer insight report – provide an ongoing forum for people to share what customers are saying in the form of a report back to the company.  It can include qualitative input, trends and statistics, follow up on what happened – use your marketing skills to package a story in a digestible format that is easy to read and highlights important ideas and outcomes.  Give space to each of the different customer-facing groups, and extract the key takeaways upfront.  Find a way to connect these insights to things people already read regularly about your clients or the business to raise visibility.  If the stories are compelling it will increase their traction.  As you gain momentum and input from all parts of the business it will become a must-read and people will share with less prompting.

These are a few ideas and your own client teams may have great input onto how to get insights more systematically out into the organization.  Do you have other examples of how to embed listening into your enterprise?

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