Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Tips for Listening and Learning

Posted by Becky Carroll on March 7, 2007

listening.jpgIn yesterday’s post, I talked about the importance of getting to know your customers better.  Today, I offer practical tips for listening to your customers and learning something about them.

I started blogging about this at the beginning of the year and gave four tips on ideas to help your organization listen to customers.  They are summarized below:

  • Read actual customer comments.  Be sure to look at verbatim comments.
  • Talk to your customers.  Face to face is ideal! (more on this below)
  • Hook up with your customer service organization.  They are often a central point of contact and a great source of customer information.  Grab a headset, plug in, and have a listen.
  • Check out the blogosphere and customer forums.  What are customers saying about you?

Here are a few other methods of getting to know customers.

  • See how customers use your product or service.  Spending time watching customers use your product in its “natural setting” is a fantastic way to learn about customer needs.  Be sure to ask your customers what works and what could be better!  A great example of this type of ethnography study was in a recent New York Times article in their Magazine section.  This (lengthy) article discusses how Toyota spent time with real customers while designing the Tundra truck.  I love this excerpt because it shows the power of talking with customers face to face, as well as the passionate interest in understanding customers:

In August 2002, Obu and his team began visiting different regions of the U.S.; they went to logging camps, horse farms, factories and construction sites to meet with truck owners. By asking them face to face about their needs, Obu and Schrage sought to understand preferences for towing capacity and power; by silently observing them at work, they learned things about the ideal placement of the gear shifter, for instance, or that the door handle and radio knobs should be extra large, because pickup owners often wear work gloves all day. 

(Thanks to Return Customer where I first heard about this article, then to Shmula with some great links to other ethnography sources, and then, from the comments on the Shmula post, to ChittahChattah which was the impetus for the above bullet in my post.  I love the way I can find such great resources from blogs.  Thanks, guys!)

  • Close the loop after an interaction.  Take the time to ask customers about their experience.  Did it meet their expectations?  Exceed them?  Fall short?  This can be done with a short web survey or a quick phone call (depending on the nature of the business).  It is also a good time to ask what could be done differently next time.  Although this is a very simple way of understanding customers, it is amazing how few companies actually do this.  Companies that close the loop with their customers are stand-outs; even if the experience wasn’t good, asking can help a customer vent and get some mental relief.

For the best results, customer listening activities should take place on a regularly scheduled basis.  How often they are scheduled will depend on your role in the organization and how ready your organization is to take action on what is heard.  That last part is critical, so let me say it another way. 

Take decisive action based on the results of listening to customers.  Don’t let their feedback be wasted!  Use what you learn from listening to customers as a critical piece of data to put alongside your other research findings as you make decisions on products, services, and experiences. 

Finally, loop back with your customers to let them know you heard them.  Ideally, it will be the beginning of a long, two-way conversation with your existing customers, building relationships as you go forward.

I will share some examples of companies listening to customers in upcoming posts.  Add examples you know of into the comments; I will include your example in my posts with, of course, a link back to you.  I’m all ears!


21 Responses to “Tips for Listening and Learning”

  1. My last three apparel companies had different practices.

    At Lands’ End, professionals had to help out in the warehouse, or on the phones, during the holiday season and during bad weather. You learn a lot about customers doing that.

    At Eddie Bauer, we didn’t have any requirements.

    At Nordstrom, we had to physically work in stores, or take orders over the phone, during major sale events.

    At Lands’ End and Nordstrom, we learned a lot about customers, by actually spending some time being close to the customer. Both brands are well known for their appreciation of the customer, both brands require professionals to have some interaction with the customer.

  2. Thanks, Kevin, for sharing your wealth of information, gleaned from working for great companies! Interesting the difference in customer focus when companies are proactively engaging their employees with customers vs not. Nothing can replace actual customer interaction! Like the quote from my post on the movie Big, you can’t see this kind of stuff in a marketing report. You have to see it with your own eyes and hear it with your own ears.

  3. […] the best way to find out?  Talk to them!  I posted on how to listen to your customers earlier in March.  It is so critical to interact with your customers in order to learn from them.  […]

  4. CK said

    Love that you emphasize “verbatim” and a “natural setting”. So key. The graphic is just perfect. Becky, thanks for pointing me to these pivotol posts…I shall point more to them for sure.

  5. Thanks, CK! Glad to have you here. If we can learn more about the way our customers actually operate, we can begin to see ways we can help them complete their tasks.

    When I worked for HP, we had a program where we would video tape a customer’s business for a day. The tapes would then be analyzed for places where HP could make the customer’s job easier.

  6. […] 4, 2008 There are many, many times here at Customers Rock! where I highly recommend that companies listen to their customers as often as possible.  The best way is to take note of the verbatim words customers use, rather […]

  7. […] one of my previous posts, I asked you what other companies do to listen to their customers.  Kevin Hillstrom of MineThatData shared his experiences with some major […]

  8. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day.
    It’s always useful to read articles from other authors and use something from other sites.

  9. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you
    are not already 😉 Cheers!

  10. Post writing is also a excitement, if you be acquainted with after that you can write or
    else it is complex to write.

  11. whoah this weblog is fantastic i like studying your posts.
    Stay up the great work! You understand, a lot of people are hunting around for this info, you could help them greatly.

  12. This is the right blog for everyone who would like to find out about
    this topic. You understand so much its almost tough
    to argue with you (not that I personally will need to…HaHa).
    You certainly put a new spin on a topic which has been discussed for many years.
    Wonderful stuff, just excellent!

  13. web said

    I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I’ll
    bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently.
    I’m quite sure I will learn lots of new stuff right here!

    Good luck for the next!

  14. […] Photo from […]

  15. Everything is very open with a really clear description of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your website is useful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  16. Could you please repeat that? purchase trileptal The European Commission said it «welcomed all ideas» to cut unwanted red tape ahead of next week’s summit and was already acting to discourage «gold-plating» of regulations with the addition of additional burdens.

  17. Excellent article merci

  18. Because the admin of this site is working, no question very
    quickly it will be famous, due to its feature contents.

  19. […] Photo from […]

  20. BestAubrey said

    I have noticed you don’t monetize your website, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn extra cash every month.
    You can use the best adsense alternative for any type of website (they approve all websites), for more details simply search in gooogle: boorfe’s
    tips monetize your website

  21. It sets some basic guidelines for measuring profits, managing investment, and building a growing bankroll. The reality is that poker mastery requires a fantastic deal of skill. This might set the other gamers on inform.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: