“The foundation of excellence lies in the problem resolution process: listening, empathizing, apologizing, solving.” – Gallup.com
With the rise of the internet, social media and a host of communication channels, each person connected via them is consistently communicating and reaching out to someone. This is obviously true of customers too and those companies that are not listening to customers can and do suffer some serious consequences. Through listening to customers, companies are able enhance their customer service levels, which result in heighted customer experiences and satisfaction. The customer demography has changed significantly – smarter, better informed and highly impatient – customers are unwilling to be treated shabbily, or wait and most importantly do not tolerate being ignored. Not listening to customers translates exactly to all these things that customers abhor about a company with whom they are in business with.
The digitization of the business, professional and personal worlds ensures that reviews and comments, which include both positive and negative views, are out there and easily readable by all. Not listening to customers then would mean that companies would remain unaware of their needs, expectations and requirements and hence be unable to provide the kind of customer service and offerings suitable for them. In addition, companies would also not know which channel of communication they should use to connect with customers or how to manage customer interactions and experiences, which is a sure way to annoy and alienate customers. This customer annoyance has many far reaching negative impacts on a company, which could ultimately lead to its downfall.
The customer is powerful and they know it. They have the power of knowledge and information, the authority to use it and the means to access this information. With such a large number of hand-held devices and device friendly information, customers are constantly ‘in touch’ with everything they want to be connected with. Not listening to customers would mean that companies ignore this 24×7 information fixation by customers and not serve them in the time and manner they wished to be served. Not listening to customers will most definitely have negative consequences and most companies are beginning to see this. Those companies that are internal focused and have not inclined themselves to listening to customers, continue to approach customer service from a traditional view. They use umbrella messages and promotions for all cross-sections of customers, the manner of communication is inconsistent and the messages sent via different channels are also varied.
By not listening to customers, what companies want to say and convey takes precedence rather than what customers want and need. None of the efforts, customer service and messages, are aligned to what customers expect to receive and soon they are convinced that the company is not committed, not reliable and is one that is inclined to not listening to customers. With such an impression, customers are most certainly inclined to leave the company and ensure that their negative experiences are known by anyone who cares to listen. In the past too, we have discussed how even one negative comment from customers via social media and other channels is enough to become a huge wave of negativity resulting in loss of business and prospective business opportunities.
In order for customers to know that a company understands their needs and will do what is in their best interest, companies have to rid themselves of the impression that they are not listening to customers. The company’s strategies, communication, marketing campaigns and other communication must all reflect a customer centric approach, which in turn will drive higher sales and improve the profits and chance of success for any company. More positive customer experiences will mean that customers are more amenable to providing repeat business and also refer the company’s services and offerings to others.
With the onset of new and improved technology, customers have a lot more options to explore and also a plethora of ways by which to express both their satisfaction and poor experiences. When this scenario did not exist, research told us that a happy customer would at best let two to three people know about the positive interactions, while a disgruntled customer would let at least 10 people know. While this too was a very large gap between spreading the good and negative aspects of a company, visible platforms of social media now ensure that a single negative comment can be viewed by thousands of people – existing and prospective customers and other audience – as soon as a customer shares it. This becomes a whole different ‘game’ and if companies are not listening to customers, they can be putting themselves in some serious trouble and in the midst of a raging negative storm that will damage their reputation and collapse their bottom-line.
It comes as no surprise then that companies are steadily investing in training and coaching programs that will allow their employees to improve their listening skills, customer service mind-set and create a culture that focuses on the customer such that the customer has memorable and great experiences each time they interact with the company. Not listening to customers ceases to be an option for anyone in the company and in fact each interaction amply displays the company’s commitment to provide world class experiences and service to each customer every time. As a company grows and the customer base expands, people tend to believe that they know what the customer wants and assume that they have heard all that customers wish to convey. This leads to assumptions and not listening to customers, which then translates to failed customer service and the company’s inability to handle even the smallest request and provide for the most basic requirements of the customers. Customers are quick to pick up on such failing service and are easily able to perceive that your company is not listening to customers and have no interest in finding solutions that will benefit them.
There are huge financial impacts of not listening to customers and this alone should be enough to ensure that companies become more agile and do away with any traditions and processes that inhibit customer service in any way. When your company is not listening to customers, they will stop providing you with repeat business and also will let others know about the poor service, ensuring that a large part of prospective business is also blocked. In addition, harassed customers very often refuse to give companies a second chance and thwart any attempts by them to rebuild relationships or restart any business. As discussed, the most detrimental of impacts of not listening to customers is that their annoyance remains no secret – social media is used to express their ire and within seconds these comments are viewed by thousands. Such negative publicity is extremely hard to recover from and could be avoided if only the company was more attuned to listening to customers.
As external customers begin to abandon the company, even employee motivation and morale begins to drop. Their self-esteem and confidence in the company is shaken and they would much rather work with a company whose future prospects are bright, which in turn would open doors of opportunity and betterment for them. Customer churn and employee attrition – the company might as well shut shop! Not listening to customers (including employees) is the recipe for disaster and the sooner companies realize this and put processes and strategies in place to enhance its listening, the better their chances of success and long term profits.