“Can you hear me now?” Those are the now-iconic words of a character in Verizon’s long-running ad campaign who roamed the US testing the carrier’s wireless network coverage. Verizon described its “Test Man” as the personification of Verizon employees who each drove 100,000 miles annually to test the reliability of the carrier’s network. Verizon was asking a very important question both from the perspective of network reliability and customer satisfaction, explaining why this phrase is still a cultural touchstone long after Verizon retired the campaign.
In today’s economy, the test men and women are our customers, and the question they’re asking isn’t, “Can you hear me?” It’s, “Are you listening?” It’s one of the most pertinent business questions in an environment in which only 55% of B2B companies say they understand how their customers measure them and their success, according to a 2015 Oracle Customer Success Assessment Survey.
At Oracle, we use a concerted listening program to help us learn what matters most to our customers’ top executives and end users. That program helps us understand what drives them to continue buying from us. Our listening efforts include a survey in which we ask customers to rank a range of product, service, and relationship factors that we then correlate with overall satisfaction and loyalty measures. As Walmart founder Sam Walton once said: “There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company, from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
Gathering input from customers isn’t a new concept. What companies haven’t been good at, however, is capturing different kinds of feedback, and then training their efforts on making their customers more successful in ways that their customers describe.
In Competing for Customers, a new book that Amir Hartman, Craig LeGrande, and I recently wrote, we explore the concept of listening posts, which we describe as the range of people, processes, and technology platforms companies deploy to gather customer feedback. Listening posts can include customer satisfaction surveys, customer service interactions, and social media tracking. They capture both structured feedback (sales records, the number and types of service tickets logged, satisfaction ratings on a 1-10 scale, etc.) and unstructured feedback (customer sentiment expressed in meetings, emails, social media, and other interactions).
Businesses can increase the effectiveness of their listening posts by adopting two best practices: Collect customer data at times that coincide with key milestones in the customer journey; and ask questions that explore customers’ unique business objectives and challenges, and the ways your organization engages with those customers. Beyond alerting you to emerging problems you can address immediately, this approach will also tell you when a customer is ready to buy more or become an advocate.
Every customer measures success differently, and you can help ensure their success by mastering the essential skill of listening.