Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Businesses Forget How to Listen to Customers

It seems like many business people are becoming so technology addicted to their iPhones and email that they forget to listen to what their customers want, or even forget to ask. Attention spans have compressed to seconds, and face-to-face conversations, with the hugely important body language, are avoided in favor of texting and anonymous Internet surveys.

It shouldn’t surprise you that a recent Harris survey found that a quarter of all Internet users think it’s okay to stay online during sex. Slightly more said it’s okay to be “plugged in” during their honeymoon, and eight percent think it’s alright to surf the web during religious services. I can’t imagine any of these people taking the time to listen to their customers.

In fact, really listening to customers happens so rarely these days that you can actually gain a competitive edge just by doing it. Here are some tips on how to do it effectively, for those people on your staff who may have forgotten how:

  1. Don’t confuse customer needs with your needs. When you are selling, your entire focus should be on figuring out what your customers want, and giving it to them. Resist the urge to sell them on your way, just because it matches your offering, or you think it’s more supportable. Win the business, build the relationship, then talk about alternatives.

  2. Meet or talk to your customers in person, and provide feedback. Instead of using the technology to avoid customer contact, use it to make personal contact via the phone or Skype, anywhere in the world. Impersonal email surveys and computer voice response units cannot convince your customers that you are listening.

  3. Keep your pride and ego under control. Pride in your hot new product line may tempt you to tout it’s features, before you really listen to customer needs. When your ego talks, you will quickly be seen as disingenuous. If the customer isn’t contributing 60% or more of the conversation, not enough listening is going on.

  4. Don’t ask questions that start with “why.’ This kind of question will usually make the customer immediately defensive, so neither party will be listening, and the relationship will suffer. Always ask open-ended questions that encourage a dialogue, rather than one-word answers.

  5. Never ridicule or dismiss a response. Customers instinctively know when you can’t wait to give your view without truly reflecting on the message, and this is interpreted as not listening. You should always ask questions with a curious, inquiring and interested tone, and pause thoughtfully before answering or moving to the next question.

  6. Good listeners respond to broad comments with probing questions. Preprinted customer feedback forms, or a fixed set of questions, are not the best way of getting customer needs. Good interviewers think on their feet and go where the discussion leads them, rather than stick to a script.

  7. When you use social networks, keep a personal touch. Social networks on the Internet provide a great opportunity to convince customers you are listening, if you do it right. Post enough feedback to prove you are listening, on a timely basis, with a sense of humor, be authentic, and don’t shout down critics.

Listening has always been important in any relationship, and in business it’s more important than ever because customers have more options than ever. Outbound marketing statements are perceived as clutter, and too many are filled with doubletalk.

Also, with the technology today, whether you listen or not, customers will make themselves heard. If you don’t care, or can’t convince your customers that you listen, you can bet they will find a competitor who does.

Marty Zwilling




  1. Excellent points you have marked. These information will give a lesson to the business people that the customers are the major factors for any business. Thanks.

  2. Very good post Martin. If a company doesn't listen to it's customers why (and how) is it in business? Not all businesses are able to do the human response but I see a few big brands on Social Media handling customer queries and complaints effectively so it can be done. Thanks for sharing on Bizsugar.com

  3. Great post. You are right. It’s not about talking about yourself. Listening to the audience to find out their needs and then responding to them to fulfill those can result in a healthy relationship in between the business and its customers.

  4. I like it a lot. You know precisely what your talking about, exactly where other people are coming from on this issue. I am glad that I had the fortune to stumble across your blog. I like it.


  5. Hi Marty, great list of values every brand should embody. Especially #6. It cannot be understated that being able to probe intelligently what people are trying to say in customer feedback/surveys.

    The way your customer survey is written DOES say A LOT about your company and what your think about your customers. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to show customers your company values.

    Cheers and more power!