Harry W. Heermans, Jr.
Do you know what
your customers really think of you? Ask them. Asking customers
what they think about your products and services is called active
listening. This can be a very effective tool to measure and
enhance customer satisfaction. It can also be used to tap your
employees for useful suggestions about how to improve customer
There are a
variety of active listening techniques, each with strengths and
limitations that we will review in future articles:
- Focus groups and panels
- Service reviews
- Analysis of existing data
thing to remember about active listening, though, is commitment.
If you ask, you had better act. Suppose you’re in a restaurant and
you peruse the extensive menu, which offers a variety of choices.
You’re in the mood for a juicy steak, so when the waiter asks what
you’d like, you order the T-bone, medium rare. When your order
arrives, a hot dog is placed before you. You tell the waiter,
"That’s not what I told you I wanted" and he says, "I know, but
that’s all we offer." You ask about all the other items listed on
the menu and he replies, "Oh, those items are not available. Hot
dogs are all you can get here." You leave in a huff, vowing never
say, that never really happens. Maybe not in a restaurant, but it
is exactly what happens when you perform an active listening
exercise and don’t deliver. You were asked what you wanted, you
told them, your expectations were raised, only to be dashed.
Perhaps you survey customers about potential changes or engage a
focus group in a discussion of what they’d like improved. Implied
in that exercise is the expectation that you will act on what they
tell you and that they will see changes. If you do not follow
through, you are serving hot dogs.
Make sure you act
on what you hear:
- Make changes that are obvious
to all customers.
- Make subtle changes that may
not be obvious but then inform customers about them.
- If you are not going to make
changes, tell customers you heard what they said and list the
reasons why you are not taking action.
well-respected international software company, featured on a
national T.V. magazine show, polls customers by asking them to
rank suggested improvements and bug fixes. Then at their annual
users’ group convention, they make a big splash of announcing poll
rankings, what they have done to address each item, and what kind
of improvements customers can expect. Imagine the good will this
active listening technique creates. This crowd is eating steak!
software company demonstrates its commitment to its customers by:
an active listening campaign, carefully designed to elicit
actionable responses from every customer;
Analyzing the results, distributing them company-wide so each
department sees the areas it needs to work on; and
Prioritizing the items, committing the resources, scheduling the
work, and reporting the results. If an item requires cooperation
among several departments, they get together to figure out how
to work the issue.
this is possible without a shared philosophy among all employees
that active listening is crucial to the company’s success. In the
next newsletter issues we’ll look at 11 ways you can build a
strong listening system that reveals what you are doing right,
what needs to be improved, and how to go about doing it.