Are You Listening to Your Customers or Irritating Them?

Illustration of a happy person and a frustrated one

The ability to listen is a seriously underrated quality and it’s a skill that not all businesses have mastered. Despite the many channels, tools, and technology available to enable us to really hear what our customers are telling us, we still often just skim the surface.

The ability to listen can be the catalyst for cultivating satisfied and loyal customers or for creating a level of frustration that can only be relieved by customers walking away.

A headshot of Katie Stabler
Katie Stabler

So why, when listening to our customers is so incredibly invaluable, do organizations still fall short?

Here, Katie Stabler explores some of the lesser-discussed reasons that a business might be unable to hear what its customers have to say.

We Ignore the Context

The musician Hrishikesh Hirway delivered a thought-provoking TedTalk in 2021 entitled ‘What you discover when you really listen’. He delves into the idea that, sitting behind what people say, there are layers of meaning that are formed by the context of what we experience.

This concept is apt in the world of customer experience. Our customers talk to us, give us feedback, make complaints, and give us praise, but how often do we look beyond the surface level of this information to understand what drives it?

To hear the context is important, because the true root cause may lead to different experience enhancement actions.

As an example, we might hear customers in mortgage arrears complaining about waiting in call queues.

At face value, we might consider these remarks to relate to dissatisfaction regarding long hold times, but at the core, these customers may be worried and anxious about the pending call and so any wait time, long or short, may lead to feelings of dissatisfaction.

To hear the context is important, because the true root cause may lead to different experience enhancement actions.

We Quickly Move the Focus From the Customer to the Business

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Be obsessed with the problem, not the solution’?

‘Be obsessed with the problem, not the solution.’

It relates to an issue that companies often face, in that we have great ideas to fix or improve things for our customers and we become laser-focused on bringing these ideas to life, but we don’t always consider if it’s the best course of action for the customer experience.

A very common example of this occurrence is digital channel shifts. I’ve seen companies hear their customers’ plea to make contact more easily and quickly, but instead of working to understand their customers’ true needs and build a suitable omnichannel experience, the company has turned inward and opted for the easiest/cheapest/fastest solution instead.

In one instance, I saw a housing association use WhatsApp as its predominant self-service channel, which belly-flopped (at a significant cost) very quickly due to the aged demographic simply not being comfortable with this as a channel of choice.

For advice on moving to digital channels, read our article: How to Create an Effective Digital Customer Service Strategy

We Lack Curiosity

I’m not referring to individual curiosity here, I’m referring to institutional curiosity, the kind of culture in which an organization is always learning (in this instance, about its customers).

Curiosity is the conduit to understanding and listening to our customers; it prompts us to ask questions, dig into unknowns and find out everything we can about what makes our customers tick.

This kind of institutional curiosity takes time, effort and, ultimately, enablement. Teams need to be supported to be inquisitive, and one of the biggest challenges to developing this culture is the perpetual lack of time, as they battle against daily firefighting.

To understand more about getting more from customer conversations, read our article: Probing Questions to Improve Your Customer Service – With Examples

We Don’t Immerse Ourselves in the Customer Experience

We can listen to our customers in a huge range of ways – including social media, direct feedback, complaints, repeat purchases, frontline teams, and conversational analytics. All these insight sources tell us something, and the list could go on.

Person at a immersive exhibit
Immerse yourself in your CX

Another source of listening is to fully immerse ourselves within the customer experience. I’m talking about Retrospective Customer Journey Mapping.

This is the process of using multiple data points to map a genuine customer journey from start to end, capturing every granular transaction.

The reason this is so valuable in listening to our customers is that it not only provides a holistic view of the experience (rather than a transactional view, which we often take), but it also enables us to hear the things that aren’t spoken out loud.

A barrier to companies operating immersive deep dives usually comes down to a lack of priority, time and skilled resources to dedicate to this activity – despite the significant benefits it can yield.

Ultimately, the more we listen to our customers, the more we understand about what they experience, expect and want. This knowledge is the foundation for what comes next. This knowledge enables insight-driven action, so organizations need to be prepared and equipped to use this insight to act.

If you are looking for advice on how to improve your customer journey mapping, read our article: 25 Ways to Help Simplify the Customer Journey

Our customers have so much to tell us, be it through their words or through their actions. If organizations fail to listen, it will only be a matter of time before that customer’s voice disappears.

Thanks to Katie Stabler, Founder and Director of Customer Experience at CULTIVATE Customer Experience by Design

To discover more great insights and advice on CX in customer service, read these articles next:

Author: Robyn Coppell

Published On: 20th Sep 2023 - Last modified: 15th Nov 2023
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , , ,

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