It is certainly not the first time I’ve said this, but the point bears repeating: your customer’s voices are the thing you should be paying the closest attention to. Today. There are many ways to get your ear to the rail and listen to what they have to say: surveys, exit questionnaires, customer service emails, live chat, and phone are all channels that you can leverage to request and respond to customer feedback.
There is no rule that says this communication needs to be serious or formal. For instance, your customer service, sales, and support teams speak to your customers every single day. Train them to be conversational and engaging and they will find that the people on the other end of the line open up. Ask them about themselves and their businesses and they will share invaluable insight that can be acted upon or, at the very least, discussed internally.
At crowdSPRING we actively solicit feedback through several channels: when they complete a project on the site, our Customers are all asked to rate our company and their experience and to leave us any comments, suggestions, or ideas they have. Over time. we have built an enormous database of customer suggestions (and rants) which we can use to focus and prioritize our own work on the product and our processes. Does the customer feedback ever get annoying? You betcha. But that does not lessen its importance to us nor do we ever stop listening to it.
Here are 5 things you can do that will help you to start listening and learning today:
1. Listen closely. This is where it starts, continues, and ends. Defining and building your listening channels is the foundation and you should pay close attention to developing the most appropriate forums. Many businesses offer support to their customers via phone and chat, but lots of customers prefer the relative emotional “distance” of email or webforms. Sometimes your listening channels will be passive, and you will simply provide the tools and then sit back to wait for your customers to contact you. A more aggressive, and often appropriate, approach is to actively seek out customer feedback via surveys, outbound phone calls, or even online options such as popup chat windows and the like.
2. People are key. It’s not just how you listen to the customers, but also who is doing the listening. Your front-line people must be selected for their ability to engage, an innate sense of empathy, and the indispensable skill of actually listening to what the customer is saying. Some of the necessary abilities can be taught or strengthened (and proper training is critical) but much of the skill-set needed is inborn and your hiring practices should reflect the necessity of finding the right people for the work.
3. Stay focused. Concentrating hard on the entire process of learning from your customers involves three “P’s:” the people described above, clearly developed and defined protocols for communicating with customers, and (perhaps most important) practice. Practicing your methods will lead to constant and ongoing improvements in how you seak with and listen to customers. Your policies and protocols should evolve over time as you respond to customer’s needs and suggestions. Never ever let your methods be carved in stone: a malleable approach will allow you to be responsive to what they’re telling you and swift in your reaction.
4. Your product can be better. Don’t get defensive. Really, when someone tells you that your product sucks, don’t go with your gut instinct to defend and protect what you’ve built. Instead put yourself in that person’s shows and consider what they experienced. Remember, nobody has ever built a perfect machine, or offered a perfect service – every product, every service offering, every website, ever retail store – these can all be improved upon, made more reliable, laid out more intuitively, or offered at a better price. As you read this, I have no idea what business you’re in or what offerings you may have, but whatever it is that you’re selling can be made better, too. Period.
5. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Finally, keep in mind that a great idea can come from a totally unexpected source. Your 4-year old niece may find ways to improve that button on your website, your 80-year old aunt may use your technology in a way you never planned for, and your newest customer may have a suggestion for how you can improve upon a process that will make your entire team stronger than they were before that customer’s arrival at your shop. The idea is to be open to new ideas, new thoughts, and to listen hard to every complaint as it comes across your threshhold and every suggestion as it floats through the proverbial transom.
Photo, Wikimedia: Pre-World War 2 photograph of Japanese Emperor Hirohito inspecting an array of acoustic aircraft locators. Prior to the development of radar in World War 2, military air defense forces used these devices to locate approaching enemy aircraft by listening for the sound of their engines.
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