Listen First Then Plan

Throughout my career, I’ve worked with many companies that talked a lot about building a “world-class customer experience”. This is usually followed by much vigorous celebration and an immediate plunge into hard work, project plans, and change management. It all sounds great, but some companies end up putting the proverbial cart before the horse. To be really successful at improving the customer experience, great organizations listen first, then plan the work. Similar to listening to your customers to hear what they need, you also need to listen to a wide variety of stakeholders.

Too many times, decisions are made on behalf of the customer without their input into the process. Granted, you can’t get bogged down by the paralysis of analysis – at some point the work has to start. But there are a few key groups that you really can’t afford to not listen to:

  • Your front-line employees
  • Thought leaders in your industry
  • Your customers

What kind of feedback can you expect from these groups?

Front-line employees

A company’s front-line, customer-facing employees get more feedback than anyone else in the company. Your customer-facing teams know the good, the bad and the ugly of what your customers are saying – and what they’re experiencing. They can recognize patterns and sentiment that surveys may miss out on. These individuals can also tell you what processes and policies work, and which ones don’t (and why).

Not only are front-line employees a rich source of customer information, but they’re also more engaged when they are asked to help improve your customer experience. Engaged employees stick around longer, they care more about the company, and they take more ownership of the customer experience.

Thought leaders in your industry

As the old saying goes, “Why reinvent the wheel?” When you’re starting or improving upon a customer experience program, it’s wise to consult those who have been down that path ahead of you. Each industry has its own idiosyncrasies, so it’s always best to consult leaders in your industry who can help you relate customer experience to your specific business.

There are literally hundreds – if not thousands – of blogs, white papers and online articles around customer experience that are freely available. There are also forums and LinkedIn groups where you can get and give advice around building your customer experience program. And don’t forget about in-person networking groups where business leaders can meet, share challenges and opportunities, and learn from one another.

Take these experiences that you read about and discuss, and ask: “How can I apply this to my business?” or “What is my key takeaway from this article?” You’ll find that just a couple of small insights may end up revolutionizing your thinking.

Your customers

If you’re focusing on customer experience, it seems silly to build out a program without finding out what your customers expect. Broadly speaking, there are two general categories of feedback you should tune into:

Solicited feedback:¬†This is the traditional mechanism most of us are used to. This includes satisfaction and relationship surveys, focus groups, suggestion boxes, feedback email aliases, etc. We refer to these as “solicited” because you are providing the customer with the touch point in the relationship where you want to measure their feedback. You’re also providing the means of feedback, which means you may miss some key information.

Unsolicited feedback: Companies intent on building a great customer experience often overlook this feedback channel. Unsolicited feedback comes from customers in the time frame and in the method that they want to give it to you. This type of feedback shows up on social media platforms like Yelp, your Google business listing, Facebook pages for your business, etc. It can be a very enlightening experience to hear what customers tell other potential clients via the web. Collecting, analyzing and acting on this feedback is key to improving customer relationships.

There’s a lot more to say about voice of the customer programs – this article just scratches the surface. Future blog posts will cover some of the standard methods and techniques to gather and analyze feedback. But before you build your plan, take time to just listen. What you’ll end up learning just might amaze you.

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