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Ride with Your Customers and Spark a Revolution
How companies can succeed through listening—and taking action.
Posted Dec 29, 2008
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"The British are coming!" Paul Revere's message echoed through the colonies and the rest is history. But what if no one was listening as Paul rode through the night and shared his knowledge? Today, customers send their feedback, ideas, and suggestions to companies ... but are they listening?

Like Paul, customers want to make a difference, to help a company or organization improve. They see a company doing something inefficiently and want to help them. Then why do so many of us get so apathetic when it comes to helping the companies that impact our lives? It's because many companies don't expect revolutionary ideas from their customers. As a result, customers think no one is listening or that no one cares. When is the last time you made a suggestion to a company and they actually did something about it or acted on it? This type of apathy is counterproductive to growing a business that values customer relationships, creates loyalty, and ultimately survives and thrives.

On the other hand, what motivates someone to take the time, energy, effort, and monetary risk to start a business, and then ignore the people who will sustain their existence and growth? We get so caught up in the day-to-day survival of our business that we no longer see the very people who make it all possible. We find ourselves doing or producing what we think people want, rather than listening to what they actually want. You can build a better mousetrap, but if people need a rabbit cage, your business is in trouble.

Listening ... it seems so obvious, doesn't it? But thousands of relationship counselors are kept in business because of this simple principle: People do not communicate with each other. On the surface, it seems preposterous. How can two people be in a committed relationship, yet have to go to a counselor to learn how to talk with each other?

Business is no different. We are offering our product or service-our passion, love of our professional life, our hope for the financial future-yet we are too often simply not communicating or listening to the very people we need to: our prospects and customers.

From a customer's perspective-we choose not to offer our views because we've become conditioned that it too often simply doesn't matter. Whatever we have to say falls into an abyss. It started ages ago-back when we attempted to connect with companies by using an old pen, attached to a rusty chain, on a piece of scratch paper, slipped into a wooden box, with a corroded padlock. (Then, with luck, it is possibly read before it is perhaps forwarded to management to languish.) Why bother?

From a business perspective we fall into a trap of thinking we can't please everyone all of the time, and, besides, we know better what they want than they do. After all, we started this business, not them!

It is essential to listen to, respond to, and interact with our customers if we want to survive and thrive-especially in today's uncertain economic climate. So how do we achieve this? A few simple steps, which should be in practice at every company, can ignite the ride of a lifetime:

  • Listen: Actively listen to customer ideas and suggestions.
  • Listen: Listening requires an ongoing commitment.
  • Listen: Listen to succeed-build customer loyalty, retention, and satisfaction.
  • Interact: Communicate with your customers and let them know that you're listening to their ideas and suggestions.
  • Engage: Provide ways for your customers to offer ideas and suggestions. Promote their ideas and suggestions. Let them know that you are engaged.
  • Value: You might get advice that you disagree with. Value the voice of your customers and appreciate their perspective.
  • Implement: Act on those ideas and suggestions. Even if it's something you can do nothing about (size of the parking lot, color of the building, or speed of the horse). People want to know they are being heard.

Listen to your customers as if each of them were going on a midnight ride with a message to not only improve your business, but potentially shape the future of your existence.

Paul is at your doorstep with something to say. Are you listening? What will you do about it?

About the Author

Jeff Whitton is founder and CEO of San Diego, Calif.-based SuggestionBox.com, the world's first centralized place for customers to send and track suggestions to any company. For more information or to create a SuggestionBox, visit www.SuggestionBox.com.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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