Why listening to the customer involves more than simply listening

I am a fan of Teamsnap and I wrote about them a little while ago because they are a great example of a customer-centred organisation.

The subject of customer experience improvement and the need for a rounded Voice of the Customer program to feed into have been on my mind recently.  Many VoC programs rely simply on customer surveys, some include social media, few gather both structured (NPS type surveys) and unstructured (what people actually say e.g. transcription of voice recordings at the call centre).   In the process I came across some interesting research that casts doubts on the accuracy of survey based research when there is a long delay (six months) between an event occuring and the survey being carried out: How reliable is our memory for our own previous intentions.

Reading the TeamSnap blog today I came across a model example of what it takes to really listen to customers and then act on that listening: The Curious Case of the New Tracking Tab. I throughly recommend that you read and absorb it.   Here is what I take away from it:

It takes a team of people who are truly customer-centric to approach the situation in the way that TeamSnap approached the unexpected issue

Most organisations (including many who say they are customer centric) would simply have rushed ahead and imposed a fix to make the new Payments tab work.  They would just have accepted that it is logically and necessary to have customers enter an amount for every payment.  They would not have done more investigation (like TeamSnap did) to understand why customers were doing what they were doing.  Nor would they have thought about the impact the change would have on their customers.

Truly listening to your customers involves going beyond surveys and reports, it involves getting into the lives of your customers – looking at both what they say and what they do

When TeamSnap looked into how their customers were using the existing Payments tab they figured out that lots of their customers were using it to track stuff.  Clearly the customers had a need to track stuff and the existing Payments tab had made that possible – unintentionally!

The point is that this understanding, this insight, came from actually looking into what customers were doing.  It involved having users test the new Payments tab.  It involved getting that it might be an issue for customers.  It involved looking into and at how the customers were actually using the system.  I call this ‘active listening’ which is very different to what I call ‘passive listening’ – usually a survey.   It is highly unlikely that a standard survey would have unearthed this insight.  Why? Because most surveys tend to focus in on what you already know: what ‘you know you know’ and what ‘you know you do not know’.

Yet it is what ‘you do not know that you do not know’  that is often a source of breakthroughs. This realm of ‘unknown unknowns’ only becomes visible when you actually immerse yourself into the lives of  your customer and leave yourself open to being surprised.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.