Every company likes to say that it listens to customers. But when was the last time you literally listened to a customer?
I’ve learned over the years that listening to customers–through audio recordings of interviews or direct conversation with customers–is one of the most powerful tools for developing customer insights and empathy. Through our voices we communicate so much more than mere words: we communicate emotions, context, and subtle shadings of meaning.
If you’ve ever tried (and failed) to use sarcasm in an email, you know what I’m talking about.
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I firmly believe that how you use recordings of customer interviews is a big factor in whether your customer feedback process actually drives change in your company or just sits on a shelf. From coaching front-line employees to advocating in front of executives, audio recordings are often the difference between inspiring change and arguing about statistics.
But I’ve found that many companies don’t use this powerful tool, even when it’s available. They think that listening to audio feedback will take too long, or bias their thinking. Or they assign low-level employees to listen to recordings, and senior decision-makers never hear them.
Here’s three places you should be using the literal voice of your customers to drive change in your organization:
1. Persuading leadership to back changes
As part of your customer feedback, you’ve probably identified a few areas where investment is needed. It’s important to make the business case, but many other initiatives will also have a strong payback (at least on paper).
I believe that in a customer-focused company customer-focused initiatives should have priority (all else being equal). Using a few audio snippets to illustrate the customer impact can help drive this point home. Of course you will want to make sure that your recommendations are backed by solid data and statistics.
It’s hard to ignore when actual customers are telling you that you’ve got a problem. Illustrating your recommendations with selected recordings can help build a sense of urgency for taking action.
2. Gaining new insights
Recordings of customer interviews can help you understand customers’ needs and opinions in a way that statistics and written feedback often don’t. Audio lends itself to empathy and understanding.
Rather than listening to a large number of customer recordings (which can take a long time and not feel very productive), I generally use the statistical data to look for interesting trends and correlations. When I see something that makes me go, “hmmm,” I’ll select several recordings that seem to have a similar pattern and listen to them all to see what’s really going on.
This method avoids a lot of the guesswork and assumptions that often happen when you try to interpret survey data. Often you discover that the customer is telling you exactly what you want to know, you just need to listen.
3. Coaching customer-facing employees
Interview recordings can help employees better understand what customers want and need. Customers are viewed as more credible sources of criticism and feedback than supervisors and coaches.
I recommend having the employee listen to the entire customer interview, and then ask the employee to interpret the interview through the lens of how their actions could have better served the customer or changed the customer’s opinion of the interaction. In many cases, when the customer was completely satisfied, there’s not much that could be done. But if the customer was not happy, often the employee will see the root cause and what could have been done differently to help or mitigate the problem.
It’s important with this kind of coaching to remind the employee that each customer’s feedback is just one person’s opinion, and should be taken in the spirit of constructive criticism. Viewed in this light, often very negative or unfair feedback can lead to ideas for how to better handle a similar situation in the future.
The bottom line is this: If you are collecting audio customer feedback and not actively listening to it and using it to drive change, you are missing one of the most powerful tools in the Voice of the Customer toolkit.