listening to customers benefits

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

Listening 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 listening in business success?

Today, we’re going to discuss why you both should and shouldn’t listen to your customers. Let’s go the easy route first: why you definitely need to upgrade your customer-listening skills.

why listen to customers

1. Customers can help you improve

Listening to customers may be a great way for you to gather enough business-important information.

After all, the best business decisions are based off data and not guesses. And customer feedback is one of the best ways to gather business-specific data that lets you 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.

The reason this is important is quite simple, if not trivial: as the recipients of your services, it’s up to customers to decide whether what you do is up to snuff.

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

2. Customers are the best testers

No matter how many rigorous tests you do, your customers will find increasingly more 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 of all kinds of walks of life decide on sample products, alpha prototypes and early access products.

This lets them, effectively, forego the usual testing procedures and make paying customers the main force behind troubleshooting. If you listen to customers, you may learn surprising details about your products, services and business overall.

3. The path to customers’ hearts lies through your ears

Want to appear empathetic? Then fine-tune your ears to the voice of your customers. Remember: empathy begins with active listening.

Customer feedback keeps you informed whether customers are (not) happy with the product or service you deliver. If customers don’t believe you make effort to try understand them, they in turn become disinterested in your services.

A happy customer is more than a satisfied customer — it’s a retained customer. On the other hand, an unsatisfied customer whom you fail to listen to becomes frustrated and starts exploring your competitors.

If you do listen to them, you can start improving experience for all your customers — and, as a bonus, get perceived as an amicable business-owner.

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.

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

That’s all well and good. But now, for the second part of our thesis — why you shouldn’t listen to your customers. With everything we’ve discussed so far, this idea sounds like a hard sell.

But is it really? Let’s look at top 3 reasons why you you shouldn’t rely on your customers’ feedback.

not listening to customers

1. Customer is not always right

Oftentimes, you can’t even rely on people’s recollection of events, as memory distortion triggered by exposure to misinformation is a well-documented phenomenon. Basically, 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.

And speaking of bias, there is a cornucopia of cognitive biases to choose from. Which is to say, customers can’t

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.”

Truthfully enough, iPhones and iPads weren’t exactly things that consumers demanded by angrily knocking on the Apple’s door. Basically, Apple engineers approach the millennia-old principle of supply and demand from the other end: there was no demand to begin with, so they created the demand.

The problem is not only that customers’ opinions cannot be reliably used for breakthrough innovations. The problem is that too often, customers cannot even properly analyze why they like what they like.

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 screaming minority

The people you end up hearing from the most may not be necessarily 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 switch to a different company.

In either case, you wouldn’t know whether there was something different or extra you could have done.

Surveys by themselves are not a panacea for your problems. Especially so 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.

In general, people feel bad saying you did something wrong. Similar to how most people would not complain about their cold soup, 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 as a result is that you end up listening to the loudest and angriest customers but not necessarily the most helpful ones.

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So what’s the best course of action, then? We can only offer you this cop-out of an answer: it’s all up to you whether you want to take listening to customers super seriously or not.

We’ve done our part, the ball now lies in your court.

In the end, listening to customers is not the only way to improve your customer experience. There are always queue management systems which help you For example, take Qminder — which you can right now.


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