Listening image

Why customer listening is going wrong - and how to fix it


Listening to your customers requires more than mere surveys. Here are the tactical and strategic steps you need to take to ensure you are properly listening to customers. 

5th Apr 2023

If we look at the average decks and strategies that most CX, marketing and product people are pitching across their siloed departments, we’ll likely spot jargon such as personalisation, 1:1 customer engagement, and deeper relationships. Yet many of them are often failing to recognise the first fundamental ability their business requires to be able to deliver any of this – the ability to ‘LISTEN’.

We’re not talking about a quick outbound email survey with no substance or fluffy voice-of-the-customer webchat smiley. No, when we say ‘listen’, we mean the ability to really listen, as in to hear and understand your customers’ every move or interaction, in real-time, whatever the channel, whenever the time.

Brands will continue to drive an ineffective, one-way conversation until they recognise this. You know, like that slightly annoying self-centred acquaintance that never listens? We’ve all been there.

What it means to ‘listen’

So many organisations out there are guilty of understanding the word ‘listening’ in its most basic form; often at a macro level, not even tailored to each customer. Because of this, they lack the ability to hold an ongoing, meaningful, and value-centred omnichannel dialogue with customers.

As a result, they continue playing a dangerous guessing game, making assumptions about what groups of customers are looking for or want to talk about. Because they’re not truly listening, they are often unknowingly driving irrelevant and meaningless conversations that don’t resonate or offer value to their customers.

In the UK, almost 60% of small businesses fail in their first three years of life due to a variety of factors that could be avoided if they just listened more. Senseless conversations with customers result in churn, unsubscribes, and ongoing message blindness/avoidance, which can be detrimental to your business’s success.

It’s time to completely ditch this mentality and begin understanding that ‘listening’ actually means the ability to capture – in real-time – structured, unstructured, behavioural and contextual data across all interactions and touchpoints the customer may have with us.

How it can help you succeed

Leaders within business, marketing, CX and data departments should be thinking of ‘listening’ as the driving force to help them:

  • Maximise the value exchange between them and their customers.
  • Deliver more timely, personalised, and meaningful interactions for their customers (and employees).
  • Unlock value from their data assets & estate.
  • Leverage and maximise ROI on customer-focused technology.

A more comprehensive picture of individual customers, in real-time, unlocks a raft of possibilities, and all it takes is to simply listen better.

Why are companies struggling to do this?

The funny thing is, we’re not saying anything hugely groundbreaking here. ‘Listening’ to your customers is nothing new, confirmed by how often we hear people cheering on terms such as ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘Voice of the Customer (VoC)’.

The only difference is the degree to which you listen, and how actionable you make the output. For example:

Voice of the customer (VoC) – Countless leaders and organisations view VoC as surveys and focus groups, which it is, but this is only a very basic and small component of VoC.

If it’s about getting the voice of the customers in your business, then surely you should be listening to them in real-time, in any channel, and using this to inform every interaction going forward – along with business, marketing and customer strategy.

Shiny technology – It’s no surprise people love shiny new tech. In fact, the martech and data world is full of it. The challenge is that many buy the tech before establishing and understanding the end game.

If you’re committed to really ‘listening’ to your customers from here on out, there are some outstanding tools you could use to your advantage, but there are also many that sell false promises or give you the same old capabilities you could easily develop yourself.

Data – Every business is teeming with data; however, it’s often hidden in multiple nooks and crannies around an organisation. If you really dial up your ability to listen, you unlock a hugely valuable mass of data – but you need the right level of understanding and know-how to manage it and realise its value.

Finally, the biggest challenge we see is people not knowing the art of the possible. We’re not talking unachievable, blue-sky thinking, but instead being open to seeing things from a new perspective.

If you’re in an organisation for some time, you often become guilty of rocking the internal blinkers, constrained by what you know and day-to-day politics. It’s human nature! You may argue you already ‘listen’, or you have a very advanced ‘listening’ capability within your mobile app… but do you?

Are you 100% sure you’re unlocking the huge insight and value you could get from it?

How to unlock all this potential

By improving your ‘listening’ capabilities, you collect more data, which is an asset, an enabler, with so much value attached to it. From structured data to behavioural and customer-volunteered data, ‘listening’ will help you gain more insight.

However, more isn’t always the answer; the challenge is unlocking value from it. There are many ways in which you can unlock value from greater listening, too. This includes:

From a tactical perspective:

  • Create more personalised, relevant, and timely interactions and communications. In addition to this, work to reduce the cost of irrelevancy and drive channel efficiencies. Have you quantified the cost of irrelevancy yet? It could be eye-watering.
  • Empower employees with a richer understanding of individual customers, their relationship with the business, and their inferred intent – enabling more meaningful and value-generating conversations.
  • Accelerate and develop a richer single customer view – which far outweighs the market’s general perspective of a ‘single customer view’.

From a strategic perspective:

  • Evolve a richer perspective of your individual customers (and customer groups), enabling you to better inform pockets of value and overall business strategy.
  • Allow you to create much more effective channel strategies – using data better to orchestrate channel adoption, usage, engagement and deflection.

So, how can you improve your ‘listening’ abilities?

Before diving straight into the deep end, understand your organisation’s ability to ‘listen’ today. This will help you understand your current capabilities and areas for improvement.

To make this happen, we’d recommend completing a channel and capability blueprint, which enables you to collate a business-wide perspective of listening capabilities, including the data you collate and where it’s stored.

From here, you can easily then identify:

  • The points in which current tools could be better leveraged to enhance your ability to listen.
  • Where data is being underutilised or siloed.
  • Areas where investment is most needed and how this would support one or multiple channels.
  • How different capabilities could be altered and the overall impact on your estate.

Once you have this blueprint, you can make smart decisions on where you can unlock the most value from listening… along with informing your company’s channel and data strategies. They say that the biggest communication problem is that we listen to reply, not listen to understand. Let your organisation change that today and reap the benefits!

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