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March 9, 2011

Do Your Customers Know You’re Listening?

In this post, Brenda Haines describes ways to close the loop in market research and demonstrate to customers that you are listening …

Brenda HainesHave a problem you want to solve? Conventional wisdom (popularized by Toyota) tells us to ask “Why?” 5 times – or ’til you get to the root of the problem.

For example:
Q: Why are my customers leaving?
A: They’re frustrated.

Q: Why are they frustrated?
A: Bad service.

Q: Why is our service bad?
A: Our staff doesn’t know how to deal with difficult situations.

Q: Why does our staff struggle?
A: Our policies are unclear.

Q: Why are our policies unclear?
A: There is conflict between two policies.

And, there you have it – the root cause of the customer departures. Conventional wisdom says fix that and everything else improves. All the way up the food chain.

As a result, CEOs, marketers, quality improvement analysts, performance consultants, web developers and others have all gotten really good at asking “Why?”

Something’s Missing

Lately I’ve begun to wonder whether we are still missing an opportunity. We’ve gotten really good at asking our customers why they like our products, whether they would recommend us and what we could do to improve their experience.

I think the missed opportunity lies in closing the loop. Closing the loop has two parts:

  1. It means not only asking our customers “Why?”, but also letting them know, “We hear you” when they respond.
  2. It means staying in touch and notifying them when their feedback has helped us improve a product, upgrade a service or enhance an experience. 

Let’s say, for example, that you complete a phone survey. What if:  

  1. A few days later, you received a thank you with a gift card for your response?
  2. Six months later, you received a small thank you note with an update on how your idea was implemented? 

There are companies who apply these practices in their customer research. But, these practices are not yet standard.

It makes sense to find whatever ways we can to let customers know we’re not just asking… we are listening. To do that, we need to close the loop and explain what we are learning from research like this and how we’re planning to use the information. Doing so encourages our customers to keep bringing us ideas, builds loyalty and creates raving fans. All of those things are good for the bottom line.

Do you have an example of an organization doing a good job – asking and listening?

I’d love to hear the story.

– Brenda