Learning from Customers

“What gets measured gets done. And what gets recognised gets done again – and even better”. – Robert Crawford

Great – you have managed to make customer service the top priority and number one goal for your company. `But how do keep it sustainable? Have you developed ways to know your customer and devised ways for learning from customers? Learning from customers will help to meet their expectations which would truly be giving customer service the significance and importance it should get. The fact is that it is not only important but also urgent that companies begin learning from customers to gain more success and remain successful.

Learning from customers is no longer hard or impossible to do. Technology helps to simplify survey taking methods and their behaviour towards a brand. Social media sites make it possible for companies to engage in direct ‘conversations’ with customers and get an immediate understanding of how customers view their brand. Observing your customers and their behaviour is a great means to learning about them. Learning from customers is ‘the’ single most important channel to get better at what you are doing – both from service and product points of view.

Learning from customers essentially means that you are saying that the customer is always right – even when they are wrong. This is the attitude that says if your customer has a problem – resolve it. That’s all – no excuses just resolution oriented action. Actively listening to customers and going to any lengths to at least meet their expectations will be the foundation that builds a company’s repute and an unshakeable foundation that will leave competition flabbergasted and customers in awe. Learning from customers, means that your company would rather have all their customers satisfied, rather than them going elsewhere to have their expectations met. When customers find themselves being treated well and their needs given priority, there is no doubt that they will remain loyal. Not all large businesses today started out large – they too were once small and would have struggled to become who and what they are today. We say this to counter small businesses who might feel that absorbing some loss is not possible as they are already not making huge profits. It must be kept in mind that if there is an outlook of genuinely listening to what customers say and learning from their opinions, behaviour and words, there is very little that can hold a company back from being successful and becoming bigger in size.

Learning from customers means that you listen to the many different ways that they ‘speak’ and convey messages to you. These messages will be both verbal and non-verbal and will come to you via feedback surveys, phone, email, in person, when they shop, when they use or don’t use your discount coupons and many such ways. The tone and the kind of words used by a customer will convey beyond what their actual words say. Customers are constantly sending out messages – listen and learn from them. For example – at a store a customer may not be saying much but a bored and irritated expression could mean that there is something in your store that is not really meeting their approval. The store staff must be trained to be attuned to these non-verbal signals if you are to learn from customers. A friend visited this store and was unable to find a particular product that she always bought from this store. She wanted to ask a staff member but first there weren’t too many around and secondly the ones who were there did not know about this product! No prizes for guessing that she left and hasn’t returned to that store to date. No one was listening nor were they bothered by the customer’s unmet needs and so obviously did not do anything about it. Not listening and learning from customers is bound to prove costly and detrimental in the long run for any company. When learning from customers by listening to them becomes a mantra, a company builds a loyal customer base that will help you tower over your nearest competition.

In businesses, it is truly the littlest of things that total up to become big and strong. Customer loyalty when gained, even by small businesses, can prove to be ‘lethal ammunition’ from the competitor’s point of view. When you consistently and cheerfully give what your customers what they want and act on their wishes whenever possible, you will be able to build an impenetrable customer base. This will prove to be the rock solid foundation that any company needs to sustain and be successful in today’s fierce competitive environment.

Many times customers may not say something directly. However, they may react to things your company does – either positively or negatively. In both cases, it is crucial that companies inquire about these reactions and improve on what needs to be. Based on how well your learning from customers is working, customers will form an opinion of your company, its offerings and customer service. Every little thing adds up and forms the basis of repeat customers, more customers or no customers.

A mind-set of learning from customers will tell you that customers tell you the truth. They give you the facts as they are and so it is vital that companies listen to customers even when what they hear isn’t exactly nice or complimentary. Sometimes employees that front-end with customers might conceal facts or tell half-truths to save themselves extra trouble. This attitude is before long bound to make customers turn away and possibly never return. We discussed earlier, that most often customers don’t complain – they become silent and walk away so you never know what went wrong and hence cannot rectify it. Slowly more customers begin to leave – without saying a word.

Is it really that hard to listen and learn from customers?

– This is one that can never be overemphasized and undermined – getting feedback from customers. Sending out surveys, meeting them in person, connecting via the phone, emailing them and other such methods are the most effective ways of learning from customers and thereby being able to address any issues or concerns they may have. Don’t forget compliments are also feedback – take them in to consideration and keep doing them.

– Train your front-end employees to listen effectively to customers. Also ensure that periodic feedback is taken from these ‘customer facing’ set of employees since they are constantly privy to information that customers provide.

– Wherever possible implement the changes suggested by customers, even a small number. This makes them feel special and heard. It validates and strengthens the trust they placed in your company. If a majority of your customers are saying the same thing, ensure that it is addressed. The opinions of this large group of customers may not be your opinion and you could disagree with it, but still it would help to deal with it.

– Don’t make the costly mistake of overlooking good business sense just because you ‘must’ do what customers say. Evaluate and thing about the big picture. This is not contrary to all that is said, but rather to help keep customer viewpoints in perspective such that other customers and your own interests are not affected.

– Involve your customers in the solutions of problems. This is a highly effective method of learning from customers. They will provide suggestions that you possibly overlooked and missed.

– Get that edge over your competition by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and giving them whatever they expect. Going the extra mile always receives customer adulation, respect and indefatigable loyalty.

For your business to do well on a sustained basis ensure that your customers are put at ease during busy and hectic times like festivals. These are crucial times for both your company and your customers but if you meeting your customer’s expectations consistently and efficiently, they are sure to pay you back in more ways than one. Learning from customers is not a one-off project but rather an on-going and relentless pursuit that will prove immensely beneficial in determining and sustaining the success and growth of your company.

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