“Truly listening is hearing the needs of the customer, understanding those needs, and making sure the company recognizes the opportunities they present,” – Frank Eliason
Conversations are an important part of human society; the exchange of ideas and points of view acts as a lubricant that drives civilization forward. Similarly, the world of commerce can benefit by interacting and listening to its customers. An enterprise or a business has a duty to speak to customers and listen to what customers have to say. Really listening to customers is a business imperative in the modern world; we could say that a business must pay attention to the points of view put across by customers. Not every individual customer may have the ability to contribute pearls of wisdom to the business or service provider. Nonetheless, good listening skills are important for a business enterprise because the insights and information that can be gleaned from such interactions can help the business to design better customer service experiences and align itself with the customer’s point of view.
In the modern world, a business can listen to its customers through a variety of devices and channels. Face-to-face interactions at the various points of customer contact represent the primary interaction between a business and a customer. Similar sites of interaction include formal meetings with customers, annual general meetings, trade meetings, and customer interactions at points of sale. Alternative sources of interactions with customers can stem from social media, blogs, online forums, product review sites, podcasts, press articles, and customer reviews from e-commerce websites. The information culled from all these sources can be collected, processed, and analysed by business enterprises. The information can be used to improve business operations, consolidate the trust of the customer, identify and leverage new business opportunities, and achieve higher business performance.
We have to bear in mind that really listening to customer feedback creates the potential to earn much goodwill for the business enterprise. The average customer feels appreciated when his / her feedback is valued by the company. We may say that this kind of an inclusive attitude makes the customer a part of the value creation process inherent in every business enterprise. Consider this: a product designer for a vacuum cleaning device has a wealth of information to guide the conceptualisation and creation of his next gadget. The designer has access to scientific knowledge and his own instincts to craft a better product. However, inputs from long time users of vacuum cleaners can prove priceless in the designing process. The designer may choose to poll a select group of customers about their requirements and the changes they wish to see in the next vacuum cleaner. Such inputs may boost the aesthetics of the new product, or may inspire the product designer to create a new cleaner from the ground up. We have to bear in mind that the customers’ inputs are not available off the shelf; the product designer or the business needs to go out of its way to solicit inputs from users and customers. The outcome of such efforts may help the enterprise to craft a superbly profitable product that meets and exceeds customer expectations. This instance is an illustration of the benefits of really listening to customers.
Feedback from consumers and customers can be viewed as an important driver of doing business in the modern world. The thoughts, actions, and principles of corporate management teams and their staff members can be, in part, guided by such feedback. The importance of feedback can never be underestimated or quantified, because it adds value to business processes. Consider this: a telecommunications company that has launched new service products may choose to invite customer feedback on said products. Cellular services are widely used in most countries and therefore many customers may choose to voice an opinion. The ensuing flood of feedback can be evaluated at company headquarters and the key learning can be disseminated throughout the organization. This is an instance of a corporate citizen valuing its customers and their feedback. We could say that a business that values feedback is also transmitting the message that it respects the customer. A possible outcome of such practices is earning customer goodwill; such actions can build a corporate reputation and help the business to carve an outstanding presence in a competitive market.
A pro-active stance on really listening to customers can find expression in many ways. The modern business enterprise can choose to leverage Internet technologies to establish dedicated electronic mailboxes, wherein the customer can send his / her unvarnished view of the business. The raw feedback from customers should help the business to gain a greater understanding of the customers’ mindset. This information can also guide the business to exert itself to match business priorities with customer expectations. This middle ground can be fertile landscape to create new ways of thinking and device better means to serve the paying customer. Similarly, dedicated kiosks can be set up within business premises to solicit customer feedback and opinions. This is especially relevant to gauge the public reaction and the customers’ opinion at critical business junctures, such as the launch of a new product or service. The business can use such inputs to refine future versions of the product or service, while fulfilling its duties as a responsible corporate citizen.
The modern business can treat customer feedback in many ways. The customer’s voice can be heard in the highest echelons of the management hierarchy or may be restricted to operational heads of business. However, the benefits of transmitting customer feedback throughout the enterprise can have a fundamental impact on the business in the broadest possible sense of the term. We have to bear in mind that customers represent an important aspect of all business stakeholders. Other stakeholders include investors, regulators, staff & employees, business promoters, and the financial markets. When customer feedback is good, the stakeholders respond positively to the said business. However, negative feedback (or a strained customer voice) indicates danger signals that have to be managed astutely. A business has to be mindful of its reputation at all times; therefore handling adverse feedback has to be a part of doing business. This type of feedback can be used as a learning experience for the entire organization. We may aver that a business should not allow negative feedback to make a mark in the public space, but that is an idealistic point of view. In the real world, enterprises have to actively manage their corporate reputations because the fruit of such efforts can cast long term effects on the business. We must note that a lack of momentum in such matters may affect the bottom line, while boosting the commercial fortunes of competitors.
In the preceding paragraphs, we have outlined the importance of really listening to customers. A business needs to cultivate these skills and refine its collective attitude towards the average customer. Business gurus concede the fact that the paying customer has a right to be heard, but they emphasize the fact that how a business treats customer feedback can determine the fortunes of the corporate organization. Business organizations need to act on customer complaints and minutely examine customer suggestions before they attain the stature of responsible corporate citizens.