listening to customers benefits

Why You Should Listen to Your Customers (And Why You Shouldn’t)

Listening to customers may be a passive process, but it also leads to active improvements for your business.

The question is, how important listening to customers really is? Do we overestimate or underestimate the role of being a good listener?

Today, we’re going to discuss why you both should and shouldn’t listen to your customers.

Let’s go the easy route first: 5 reasons why you need to listen to your customers.

why listen to customers

1. Listening to customers gives you valuable feedback

Listening to customers is a great way to gather specific, real-time feedback.

Employees on the front line are typically the first ones to hear from customers, be it complaints or positive comments.

It’s important to listen to front-line employees, as it’s the way to indirectly listen to your customers and get data.

After all, the best business decisions are based off concrete data, not guesses or estimates. You want to understand how your customers really feel about the product or service you deliver.

Use this feedback to guide your business and marketing decisions. By measuring customer satisfaction, you can determine whether you meet, fall short of, or surpass your customer expectations.

That is to say, customers are among your best critics.

But why the need to engage customers in a conversation? Why not simply use a post-service survey with predetermined questions?

HundredX, an analytics and insights provider, found that listening produces data that is different to data obtained through surveying.

The customer is in control of how much feedback they want to give and how specific they want to get. The answers produced from a no-holds-barred conversation are more comprehensive, encompassing, and detailed.

Read more: How to Ask Questions to Get Customer Feedback

2. Listening to customers helps you understand your product better

No matter how many rigorous tests you do, your customers will find increasingly creative ways to break your products or find loopholes in your services.

In a way, customers are the best beta testers.

This is why companies in a lot of industries tend to give out sample products, alpha prototypes and early access products.

This lets them focus-test their products, improve their quality, and start troubleshooting before the product even hits the market.

If you listen to customers, you may learn surprising details about your products, services, and business overall.

You may even gauge the demand for potential products.

It is important not to over-rely on customers beta-testing products for you, though.

3. Listening improves customer loyalty and retention

It’s five to 25 times less expensive to keep existing customer than to acquire new ones.

Want to appear empathetic and keep your customers satisfied? Start paying close attention to what they say.

If customers don’t believe you make effort to try understand them, they will become disinterested in your services.

In the article How Customer Feedback Could Have Saved Industry Giants: Adapt or Die, BigMouthSurvey has detailed how Blockbuster, Curves, and Aéropostale — the giants of yesteryear — could still be relevant today if only they relied more on customer feedback:

Blockbuster could have avoided its downfall if the company knew right away that customers were leaving the stores upset. If customers could leave feedback, they might have complained about movies being out of stock or the newest titles not being on shelves, multiple inconveniences associated with an in-store rental model.

Rob Pace, the founder and CEO of aforementioned HundredX, believes that building a robust listening culture is key to retaining customers:

Fostering a listening culture is the best way to deliver better customer and employee outcomes.

By listening to customers, you keep the finger on the pulse of your business.

Read more: What It Means to Be Customer-Centric

4. Listening creates brand ambassadors

Continuing from the previous point, listening to customers makes them more confident in your product and services.

When someone goes above in beyond in serving us, we want to share this moment with our friends.

49% of customers who have had a positive customer experience say they would share it on social media or post a positive review online.

5. A listening culture has a knock-on effect on employee retention

Listening to customers is only one aspect of shifting to a listening culture at your workplace.

Again, we’re going to refer to Rob Pace here:

The capability to listen at scale will define best in class organizations. It starts with a cultural shift away from a broadcast mindset to listening. The ultimate objective is for the customer or employee to feel they were heard.

Going back to our first point, we advised you to start listening more to front-line employees who have a direct line of communication with customers.

That’s a good first step. This, already, will make your employees feel heard.

We’ve talked at length about the importance of employee experience. It bears repeating a few talking points:

  • Among companies providing superior customer experience, 70% and 24% have significantly better or moderately better employee experience.
  • Happy employees are up to 20% more productive at work.
  • Unhappy employees take 15 more sick days each year than the average worker.
  • Companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share.

Just like customers, employees can be your brand ambassadors.

Customer-facing employees are almost 5.5 times more likely to recommend their company’s products and services.

By making sure your employees stay satisfied and motivated, you not only get a productive team but only increase sales.

Read more: A Beginner’s Guide to Employee Experience

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Now, for the second part of our thesis — 3 reasons why you shouldn’t listen to your customers.

not listening to customers

1. The customer is not always right

The oft-repeated phrase “The customer is always right” was coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge back in the 1909.

Since then, a lot has changed in how we perceive customer relationships and customer experience. As a result, this adage is no longer as absolute as it once was.

The reason is simple: customers are people and behave in predictably upredictable ways.

At the end of the day, you can’t even rely on people’s recollection of events. Memory distortion triggered by exposure to misinformation is a well-documented phenomenon.

people are so susceptible to misinformation, their brains will actively modify their memories.

In a famous 1932 study, participants had to retell a story over a series of intervals. With each repetition, the story got increasingly different. The gaps in details were filled with outright false information.

The same happens to every person, even when they’re required to give a testimony. Be it a personal bias, confusion or partial amnesia, memories may not always be trusted.

Speaking of bias, there is an exhaustive list of cognitive biases to choose from.

2. Customers don’t know what they want

You are probably familiar with this famous quote from (allegedly) Henry Ford, the father of automotive industry:

If I had asked what people wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Steve Jobs also shared something to that effect: “A lot of time, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Sure enough, iPhones and iPads weren’t exactly things that consumers demanded by angrily knocking on the Apple’s door.

It was Apple’s engineers who approached the millennia-old principle of supply and demand from the other end. They there created the demand when there was none.

Breakthrough innovations are rarely based on customer expectations, because people in general resist change.

The problem is that too often, customers cannot even properly analyze why they like what they like. They either lack the knowledge, points of reference, or skills of retrospection.

Think of it this way: how many times have you fallen in love with a movie or a book, but when questioned, would not even be able to effectively communicate why?

Perhaps it’s just the lack of specialized vocabulary or the lack of compulsion to analyze your preferences.

Whatever it may be, customers are not always the brightest judges of what’s in their best interest.

3. The silent majority and the loud minority

The people you end up hearing from may not be representative of your core consumer base.

Unless you solicit feedback from a large selection of customers, what you usually get is just the opinion of a select few people.

The reality is, people are rarely compelled to share their opinion, even when their experience is negative. They will either carry on as if nothing’s happened, or stealthily switch to a different brand.

In either case, you wouldn’t know whether there was something different you could have done to retain these customers.

As we’ve said above, surveys by themselves are not the be-all, end-all solution to your problems.

This is especially valid if you consider scoring systems and how wildly their results differ, based on individualistic perceptions of what a good or bad score is.

Is six out of ten points average good or good good? It passes the midpoint of the ten-point scale, but if you were to apply this score to a movie or a video game, it would be deemed a failure not worth buying.

On the other hand, there are people who don’t believe in perfect scores, even if those are inconsequential. A ten out of ten becomes unattainable, no matter how hard you try.

Or vice versa, people may give a perfect rating to your services without offering any explanation. “There was just nothing wrong with it.”

In general, people feel bad mentioning mistakes of others. Similar to how most people would not complain about their soup going cold, there are 26 customers who don’t voice their complaints for every customer who does.

If you rely on this skewed feedback too much, what may happen is that you end up listening to the loudest and angriest, not necessarily the most helpful customers.

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Despite what we argued above, we don’t want to discourage you from listening to customers. The pros far outweigh the potential setbacks, and implementing a listening culture benefits your brand in the long run.

You should exercise critical thinking when developing this culture, though.

Fair warning: listening to customers is not the only way to improve your customer experience.

It’s all about little things: how you greet and address them, whether you use their name, or even how you handle their waiting experience.

If you start listening to customers, no doubt one of their biggest points of contention would be long waiting times. It is among the top reasons for customer churn and balking.

With a digital queue management platform, you can improve the experience of waiting in line, plus make it feel more personal.

To see it in action, . In just two weeks, you’ll start hearing lots of positive feedback from your customers.

That is, if you decide to listen to them.

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