When customers talk, who’s listening?


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Listening to your customers is only the beginning. What is truly important to customers is that they be heard! That means not only must the customer have a venue for voicing their pleasure and their discontent, they must receive satisfaction as a result.

When you ask customers for their feedback, as The Dunvegan Group does in our customer satisfaction measurement programs, you create an expectation that there will be some action arising from the process. If customers perceive, and – more importantly – experience no change, the next time we ask for their feedback, they may not be willing to invest the time in answering questions about their satisfaction with your company’s products and services.

At The Dunvegan Group, we’ve encountered people who believe that, if they open the channels of communication, they will receive a flood of complaints. And that certainly could happen. More often we find that customers will tell you what your business is doing well, when you’re performing at your best and ways you can improve their experience.

Of course we ask them if they have experienced any problems in dealing with your company, its product and services – we also ask the customer to calibrate the seriousness of the problem and their degree of satisfaction with the resolution.

No company performs flawlessly. Mistakes happen. In order for you to make a graceful recovery – to make it right for the customer – it is essential that you are aware of the problem and that you act to resolve it.

We have seen dramatic improvements in customer retention – companies who have cut their customer turnover in half – when they have an effective customer satisfaction measurement program in place.

So what can happen when customers don’t feel heard?

When customers don’t feel heard, three things can happen – none of them good.

First of all, customers will leave you.

Secondly, customers will stop investing time in providing you with their feedback – they won’t participate in customer satisfaction measurement or customer surveys.

At the Dunvegan Group, we do know of companies that have been delayed or ineffective in their follow up to customer satisfaction measurement programs. While upwards of 60% of their customers participated in the initial interview, when we went back to them a year later – less than half of those customers were willing to take the time to talk with us again.

Many unhappy customers won’t bother to contact you and voice their unhappiness, as they have learned that many companies either take no action to resolve the issue or – worse yet – turn the problem around and put the fault at the customer’s doorstep. When customers refuse to participate in a customer care/customer satisfaction measurement interview, they are often sending a signal to express their feeling that they have not been heard.

Thirdly, customers who do not feel heard make take their discontent out into the community.

Now, I’m sure every organization has noticed that unhappy customers talk, often more than happy customers. We’ve all told a friend about negative experiences we’ve had with organizations. In fact, research has shown that unhappy customers will often tell upwards of 10 people – that is, other customers and potential customers for your company – about their unsatisfactory experience.

Word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising we know – think about the power – negative power of your unhappy customers telling 10 people each about their unhappy experience with your company.

Are social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook valuable for customer satisfaction measurement?

Social media is becoming a useful tool to help companies listen to what their customers, potential customers and their competitors’ customers are saying. Many organizations are fostering two-way communication on Twitter and Facebook – so, not only listening via social media but hearing and responding. The most successful of these organizations respond quickly to questions and concerns.

In addition to social media, review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor can provide a wealth of customer feedback, both positive and negative.

Social media and review sites are certainly valuable tools; however, these tools cannot replace the proactive outreach of customer satisfaction measurement. Keep in mind that social media participants may not reflect your most profitable customer segments and they may not be representative of your overall customer audience. To get a broad overview of how your company is performing, you will need a systematic customer satisfaction measurement program.

On the other hand, we must remember that the internet is a public forum and we are seeing the reputations of companies made and broken based on customer reactions online, and how they are responded to. We have seen several well known companies subjected to scathing blog posts and “tweets” describing unhappy customer experiences – left unresolved, these situations can cause serious and potentially irreparable damage to a company’s reputation.

What can organizations do to make sure their customers are being heard?

We put the onus for this at the top of the organization. A customer-centric culture and focus must be established and nurtured from the C-suite. Employees at every level who have contact with customers must be encouraged to hear what customers are saying and empowered to deal with customer issues immediately and effectively.

And, of course, the organization will need a mechanism for measuring its success – for obtaining feedback from its customers to assess customer perceptions of how well the organization is doing at hearing what customers need and want.

The benefit of hearing what customers are saying is immense. Customers who have had issues – issues that were resolved to their satisfaction – can often be transformed into advocates for your business – telling others about their happy experience and referring business to your company.

I am sure you can see how important it is that companies reach out to their customers, ask questions, listen and hear the answers then take action to resolve issues, remedy organizational weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Anne Miner
Anne Miner, the founding partner of The Dunvegan Group, first entered the field of marketing and survey research in 1974. Since then, she has been the lead consultant on assignments across virtually all product and service categories, from diapers to transportation. Anne is respected for her ability to work closely with her clients' teams to identify the issues to be investigated, focus on what is actionable and develop creative solutions.


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