Three Attributes of Best-in-Class Customer Listening


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Do you have a ‘listening’ culture that’s prevalent across your business not just in a research, marketing or sales functions?

According to Confirmit, less than half of companies are happy with the level of insight they have on the customer experience.

Challenges to Effective Customer Listening

Shockingly, only 11% of Fortune 1000 customer-related decisions are based on data. Why don’t organisations have the appropriate insight that they need for effective action? Here are some key challenges:

  • Companies often have the wrong perception of customer listening. Because companies track NPS through a survey, have a VOC (voice of customer) platform in place or do ‘social listening’, they think they ‘do’ customer listening.
  • Insight is fragmented. The “right” data and information is often in the “wrong” place. It is often held by few and not shared and communicated.
  • Listening is inconsistent or sporadic. There isn’t an established approach to listening and gathering insight. It can be project based and not an on-going process.
  • Listening is about what the company controls; it can solely focus on the data that the company solicits i.e. via surveys and on the numbers i.e. structured data. It more often than not doesn’t take into account unsolicited feedback from customers.
  • Listening isn’t reflective of all customers. If surveys are the main way of gaining insight, then they are a very narrow view of the customer base and often skewed towards particular types of customer.
  • Listen is not insight. There isn’t any interpretation or analysis to turn information, data or feedback into insight
  • Listening can’t be acted upon. Marketers already have a vast amount of data at their fingertips, most commonly sourced from online analytics, customer surveys, email, and CRM. Whilst this might tell us about customer behaviour and help to highlight customer needs – it’s not always so easy to turn data into actionable insight.
  • Listening is out of date. There can be a time lag to analysis and response.
  • The organization capability is lacking. It takes a certain skill set to be able to listen, hear and act and organisations don’t necessarily recruit, train, develop or coach for this capability.

2018 Eptica research found that 78% of UK brands have some sort of Voice of Customer (VoC) programme in place. Voice of Customer Programmes are a valuable mechanism for aggregating transactional feedback after specific interactions and helping organisations close the loop – i.e. fix things and do better. There’s no denying that VoC software is a great tool to gather and distribute data from multiple sources and in various formats.

VoC should help drive continuous improvement and prioritise experience delivery, but it isn’t giving the full picture. Organisations need to understand how VoC fits into the broader context of Customer Listening.

Whilst many organisations may say that they appreciate the importance and value of customer feedback, they don’t necessarily have an understanding of what Customer Listening is and how to cultivate it. Customer Listening is not widely adopted or understood. Listening to customers in order to understand them (and to influence strategy), not just to ‘fix’ problems.

A very recent study conducted by CustomerThink, with the support of a CX research council including myself, highlighted that one of the differences between CX leaders and followers is the breadth of feedback sources and in particular the use of unstructured and unsolicited insight sources used by leaders. There is an over-reliance on surveys by those who are lagging behind.

Source: CustomerThink Customer Experience at a Crossroads: What Drives Success

Three Attributes of Best-in-Class Customer Listening

Customer-centric leaders systematically and sustainably incorporate outside-in, customer listening into their established decision-making and strategy development processes. They share 3 things:

1. A systematic approach, discipline and process of Customer Listening:

  • There is a clear (senior) owner of customer intelligence
  • Insight is actively and openly shared and not locked in organisational silo’s
  • There is a multi-faceted approach – Customer listening is informed by a wealth of insight sources (structured, unstructured, solicited, unsolicited)
  • There is one single view of the truth or of the customer
  • Employees have access to a live, centralised, insight repository or platform that can be interrogated to serve their needs
  • Listening outputs are used for responding and planning both bottom up (at an individual/local operation level of the organisation) and top down (at an organisation/group wide level)
  • People are held accountable for action on insight
  • Customer-facing employees are empowered to follow up on customer feedback and know the remit of that empowerment

2. Companywide capability in Customer Listening:

  • Employees are provided with the skills they need, that are appropriate to their area of the organisation to be more in tune with and to unlock the collective wisdom and feedback of customers
  • There is analytical capability (within or outsourced) that can interpret all sources of data, particularly unstructured data
  • There is a ‘story-telling’ capability – listening is both an art and a science. There needs to be the capability to turn data, feedback, and information into a ‘customer insight story’ and which speaks to relevant stakeholders in a customised way to help their decision-making and action

3. Appropriate Customer Listening Tools:

  • Tools must be relevant and tailored to the business
  • Tools and listening techniques are used flexibly on a case by case basis
  • There is guidance to enable a culture of asking the ‘why’, rather than just the ‘what’
  • Tools, templates, and guidance support customer listening by business unit, country or brand

Customer Listening is the Facilitator for a Customer Centric Business

Customer Listening should be the facilitator for business decisions, action and for strategy development in any customer centric business. It can also help refocus and refresh efforts to affect much needed customer experience improvements.

There are many benefits to the organisation of Customer Listening. Not just better customer experiences and more effective strategies. Better Customer Listening can ensure the delivery of insights to those who need it, the integration of these insights into the rhythm of the business, increased decision support, better business case/economics data, continual learning from best practice and a better eye on what the future looks like for the customer as well as in the here and now.

How good are you at Customer Listening today?

A simple place to begin developing a customer listening approach for the organisation is to carry out an audit of the current Customer Listening practice. This way it can assess its level of ‘maturity’ and establish key priority areas to focus on.

This audit can include an assessment of:

  • What customer insight is already being gathered, and by whom
  • How this is being used – analysed and acted upon
  • Where there are gaps in customer understanding
  • How insight is currently being shared

Surveys will come and go, but Customer Listening is here to stay

I believe that there will be less and less reliance on surveys which provide structured, (and solicited) customer feedback and insight. Organisations will need to move to listening activities that are more on the customer’s terms — feedback will become more ‘conversational’ or natural — I believe this will be the pure gold of customer insight.

The future of Customer Listening must be gathering of feedback from an assortment of sources, channels and touch points, integrated with both operational and customer data, unearthing insights using sophisticated analytics, that are ultimately channeled to steer every part of the businesses, leading to Smiling Companies, Happy Customers.


  1. By the time you get a survey result, it is too late. “Listening” through surveys is like driving down the street looking in the rear view mirror. That is, by definition, the past. World-class companies (Baldrige Award winners, for example) have predictive internal metrics, so they are never surprised by a survey result.


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