Tips for Listening and Learning
Posted by Becky Carroll on March 7, 2007
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!