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Never a Better Time To Start Actively Listening To Your Customers: Here’s How

Here’s advice on how to develop a listening engine to help operationalize customer feedback and start delivering more empathetic service today.

Aaren Terrett, Vice President of Customer Success at Traction on Demand, a Salesforce consulting partner, wrote this article.

With organizations in all industries reporting an average increase of 44 engagements on their social media posts per day in the early months of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s never been easier to find out what your customers want. And as those customers navigate one of the most challenging experiences of their lives — it’s crucial. 

Even before this crisis, companies that hardwired customer feedback into their operations saw their net promoter score jump 10–25 points in the first year alone. The fact is: you don’t often know when or where an experience is missing the mark without a formal process for collecting and implementing feedback. Whether your business helps or hinders customers today, in their moment of need, will have a profound impact on their ongoing trust and loyalty. 

Here’s my advice on how to develop a listening engine that will help you operationalize customer feedback to deliver more empathetic service today.

Take a long, hard look at yourself

Every day, I help businesses develop the right mix of people, processes, and technology to deliver exceptional customer service. But when I walk into a new organization, it always surprises me how many leaders haven’t taken that basic first step of listening to their customers.

The first step in listening to your customers is taking stock of the tools you have and becoming aware of what you lack. 

  1. How does your business gather feedback today? 
  2. Do you capture it at every step of the customer journey? 
  3. Given that 84% of customers want to know how their feedback is used, how do you action it?

As we help our clients build their listening engines, we always start with a realistic assessment of their current customer-listening capabilities. Then, we incorporate the weaknesses we identify into what we call a “success charter.” Our clients then use this charter to measure their progress as they develop their listening engines and optimize over time.

Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes

We’re often surprised by how many organizations create barriers to buying without even realizing it. This usually occurs when a business implements some new process to boost internal efficiency without considering how this change may affect customer experience.

Recently, one of our clients wanted to know why they had so many small and enterprise customers but so few mid-market customers. So, we modeled the typical mid-market customer’s journey and discovered many barriers to purchase, including poor case management when a customer has questions before purchase, and faulty data that didn’t properly identify mid-market accounts. These were barriers we could fix once we identified them.

To understand your customer’s perspective, you need to map out their journey. First, identify every function they are likely to encounter on a given journey. Then, do a test run to see if these functions cooperate to deliver the seamless, consistent experience that 78% of customers expect, but just 59% currently experience.

Get the metrics that count

In our experience, many companies only gather feedback through certain channels, most commonly sales. As a result, they miss out on powerful insights from functions like marketing and customer service.

To build the customer’s voice into every operation, you need a listening function that captures each customer conversation with each team member, on each channel. We call this an integrated customer listening engine. With customer conversations organized in one place, you can isolate recurring keywords and identify common sentiments expressed across your channels. And, you can deepen your insights by analyzing qualitative metrics like tone as well as quantitative metrics such as call wait times.

In the peak of the pandemic, Facebook announced total messaging had increased up to 70%. With most of your customers sitting inside, scrolling through their social media, social listening should be one of your most indispensable crisis communication tools. And social listening isn’t only a benefit for crisis communication; it’s an invaluable resource for assessing brand health, generating new leads, resolving customer complaints quickly, and collecting honest feedback about products and services that can guide product development.

TOMS, the shoe retailer, is a perfect example of the power of customer listening. Using Salesforce Social Studio, they listened in to their 4 million Facebook, 2 million Twitter, and 950,000 Instagram followers during the height of the COVID-19 crisis. They learned, above all else, their customers wanted to support solutions that helped people in need, supported frontline workers, and promoted public health measures. They used this insight to create the COVID-19 Global Giving Fund, where $1 is donated to COVID-19 response and relief partners for every $3 customers spent with TOMS.

Say goodbye to silos to take action as a team

Once we’ve armed our clients with meaningful metrics and comprehensive maps of every customer experience, it’s time to turn these insights into action. But to respond to customer feedback in real time, you need an agile decision-making structure — and that means saying goodbye to silos.

We often think of the customer journey as linear (moving from marketing engagement, to a sale, to customer service and brand advocacy), but the reality is it tends to move in more of a zig zag — or an infinite loop. Multiple teams may need to be involved in delivering the ideal experience at any given touchpoint. For example, before purchasing a new product being promoted on Facebook (such as a new air conditioning unit) a customer may need to speak to a service representative to understand if it will work in their space. At this stage of the journey, marketing, sales, and service must work together with an integrated process and shared data to close a deal.

Using dashboards to display comprehensive customer data to every team, you can equip your people with the insights they need to deliver individualized, empathetic service. You can also foster collaboration by building cross-functional decision-making squads designed around customer journeys, including the teams involved in making that moment in the journey a success, rather than internal structures. With marketing, sales, operations, and customer service functions working together to act on customer feedback, change is the work of a moment.

To find out more about how today’s leaders are delivering empathetic customer service in volatile times, check out Leading Through Change. To learn more about Traction on Demand, visit their consulting partner listing on the AppExchange.

Aaren is vice president, Customer Success at Traction on Demand. He has a demonstrated history of working in the technology and development industry. He is skilled in negotiation, operations management, team building, management, and account management.

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