In business—and especially in marketing—we tend to make a lot of noise. We’re always looking for the best way to “get the word out,” but we often view marketing as a one-way street.
A business sends out its message with the assumption that all intended recipients heard it. Then the marketing cycle moves on. This strategy, in my opinion, can be categorized as an “epic fail,” especially if other facets of a company’s marketing program don’t include formal and informal feedback and direct listening mechanisms.
Although almost every company has some “marketing program,” so few take the time to plan and implement a formalized “listening program,” or better yet, to instill a culture of listening. As such, organizations lose out on what is arguably the most effective form of customer engagement—a genuine and tangible illustration of the care and respect they have for their customers.
The fear factor: You can be silent, but you can’t hide
One of the biggest barriers that prevents businesses from engaging in active listening is, simply put, fear. From my experience, the fear is related to a) having to actually invest time and resources to listen and b) to having to take the heat (and respond) to real people. While I am sure that getting negative feedback from customers (and people in general) is not at the top of anyone’s “Favorite Things” list, when handled correctly, a negative online review or unhappy call from a customer (remember those offline channels, too!) is actually a golden opportunity to show your customers what your company is made of. Research has shown that if a complaint is handled well (with respect, courtesy and a fair resolution) it can actually have a positive impact on customer impressions of an organization. Closing your eyes and plugging your ears, on the other hand, will not help—especially in our connected world where a digital soapbox is only a click away.
Getting over the fear of real people interacting with your organization
While it can be scary to make your organization a little bit vulnerable by creating a culture of listening, opening up the lines of communication with your customers (and to be super-effective your employees, as well) has benefits that far outweigh the risks—as long as you have a plan for how you will engage and resolve any any problems identified by your customer ranks. If you do experience a lot of complaints from customers, it’s time to take a look in that proverbial mirror, and to thank them for being honest. After all, by listening to what your customers have to say, you’ll have an invaluable opportunity to learn what your business needs to do to better serve them.