Get Your Ears in Gear: Three Ways to Listen to Customers

March 14, 2019



Ever Googled yourself and discovered all the people who share your name? I share mine with a Canadian CBS News journalist and an Olympic gold medal-winning horseman who also happens to be married to Princess Anne. I keep thinking one day a royal trust fund disbursement might accidentally find its way into my account, much like the PGA winnings deposited into the wrong Tommy Fleetwood’s bank.

When I read the Fleetwood story, it got me thinking about the multitude of ways companies fail to truly know their customers. And I don’t mean that in a regulatory, “KYC” way, although that’s obviously very important in my line of work. I’m talking about having a close relationship with the people who trust us, whether that’s with their health, their money, their education or their family vacation.

Everybody wants to feel like an individual – to be seen and heard and acknowledged for their uniqueness. Brands that recognize and execute on this are the ones that will with love and loyalty for the long term.

So, how can we go over and above to understand what each of customers really need? What technologies and practices can we adopt that will enable us to look around the corner for them, preventing issues or creating opportunities before they even ask? In our environment, it’s essential that we nail this; it’s what separates a community bank from any one of seven megabanks down the street.

To be sure, there are brands killing it in the game of hyper-personalization. Most of them are digital companies. But, there is no reason legacy firms and incumbent businesses cannot also achieve the same competency.

It begins and ends with listening.

Young, agile companies listen to their customers extremely well. Highly valuable feedback loops drive their businesses forward. Cultures that empower employees to create big “wows” generate consistently wonderful experiences, both inside and outside the organization.

If you run a business, or lead a team within one, you’ve probably asked yourself some of the same questions I have, especially if you work for an incumbent group in a market experiencing the disruption of digital competitors. How can we get closer to customers to really know what they need? Here are three ways to listen well for customer wows.

Social listening. This is not social media listening. While there is great value in the two-way communication allowed by Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and others, I’m talking about good-old fashioned, real-world socialization. Make it a point to get to know your customers on a human level. Visit their offices and pay attention to their space. What do the pictures on the desk, pendants on the walls and candy in the dishes tell you about who they are? Find ways to connect on a personal level.

Deep listening. This happens when companies avoid the temptation to discount an issue because they believe it to be silly or isolated. Deep listening practitioners let go of judgement and learn as the customer’s story evolves. This allows you to take a truly consultative approach based on the individual, not on what has worked for others who happen to share similar traits.

Opportunity listening. Digital brand Buffer refers to its customer service department as the Happiness Team. Employees are not only trained how to solve problems, they are empowered to “wow” customers by going above and beyond. They listen beyond the issue du jour; instead, searching for opportunities to impress. This is sometimes referred to as “active listening,” and it allows both parties to come away feeling like they added real value to one another’s lives.

Knowing your customer’s name – common or not – simply isn’t enough in today’s competitive and connected world. Expectations for personalized experiences are cranked to 11. Now’s the time to put those ears in gear, respond to what you hear and prove your customer’s success is your success.