Listening to the customer is a critical part in making a company’s strategic marketing. Companies exist because of their customers whom they must keep satisfied by translating their wants and needs into designs of products and services.
But, knowing the customer wants is not an easy matter. Customer likes and wishes are always changing by what they see and hear in their immediate environment, or from what they see and hear in other industries, or even in markets in other countries. Their expectations are constantly being set higher and higher, and what pleased them before, is perceived of less value today.
Furthermore, the inertia factor comes in for some companies that seem uwilling to make the necessary effort; they hear the customer concerns once when they start the business, and not enough later. Their emphasis is on production, costs, and efficiency ignoring the customer changing wants. But the customers, when their turn comes, will ignore them too.
To get closer to customers, to know and understand their needs and expectations, companies have to listen to them and do so attentively in a structured way. Here below, we offer 10 tips with a brief explanatory note for each.
Should be trained to understand the business and act as the company’s eyes and ears so as to sense the market field and bring back in the company useful feedback
2. Frontline staff (Points of sales) or complaints handling staff
Should similarly be trained to observe customer behavior during transactions remaining open to receive customer feedback, and serve as collectors of ideas of what the company should be redoing better, and more effectively and innovatively
3. Management field visits
Managers themselves should, when necessary, go out for firsthand feedback and new ideas, visit key customers to discuss their needs, or in what respect competitors are doing better than them
4. Customer-Relationship Management (CRM): categorize your customers, records, analysis and reporting
Either with or without a customised software, categorize your customers, your prospective customers included, by as many practical features, as you can, including the degree of importance of your product for the customer’s business, and do data analysis and meaningful thematic searches
5. Focus groups, customer meetings or conferences and discussions
Organize such events, invite and welcome comments and feedback for shortcomings as well as for improvements creating or enriching company learning
6. Social Media
A splendid testing ground for most companies to present ideas and products, and receive first feedback. Also, a place to receive comments about existing products and services posted by thankful or enraged customers
7. Ads, Surveys, Complaints or Suggestions, and Outsiders’ feedback
Seek quality responses, trueness, and immediacy both in data collection and analysis for results. An outsider sees things differently, does not conform to any prevailing way of thinking in the business, and is, therefore, less constrained to making new suggestions
8. Culture: create for your people an open culture where learning is critical
For your people to seek customer feedback, to put forward their ideas, and to contribute to solutions, it is necessary to operate in a climate that supports such actions
9. Outside-your-industry players that could turn into competitors
Your considerations should not be limited to your industry alone. In a digitally transformed world, competition may come from seemingly different industries, a consideration that demands to listen to both your and your industry’s outside environment
10. Action: act promptly upon feedback for results
Self-explanatory, but a must that should not be neglected. It will create trust in your people to continue giving feedback and ideas
I would like to conclude by saying again, what most of us know but few practise, that for a company to stay close to customers as well as remain lovable by its own customers, it must listen to customers, and that it can do this by a series of actions in a structured and methodical way.
Footnote: For those with further interest in the topic or in other management services: Panikos Sardos is the Managing Director of P&E Sardos Business Solutions Int., a management consulting firm that offers advisory services, coaching and training and can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: +357 99640912, +357 24400884, www.sardossolutions.com