How Do You Listen to Your Customers?

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Customer experience (CX) professionals have it so easy today. In the past we relied on surveys as our primary source of customer insights. Now with so many options for connecting with customers, CX professionals have it made!

But can so many options actually make it more difficult? How do you keep track of the options? How do you determine which are best for you? How do you pull everything together into one cohesive voice?

On second thought, maybe today’s CX professionals have it harder than I thought.


Together with some colleagues I came up with this list of listening methods, in no particular order: online panels, qualitative interviews, interactive voice response (IVR), online communities, kiosks, SMS/text-based feedback, mobile-optimized surveys, focus groups, ethnographic research, voice of the customer through employees, web-based surveys, advisory boards, journey mapping, paper surveys, customer complaint systems, in-app feedback, phone surveys, website feedback (site intercept, online polling), and social media monitoring. It’s 19 methods in all. That’s a lot of options, and I’m sure there are others I missed.

Then I attended a conference of CX professionals and invited attendees to check off the methods they use. All in all, approximately 50 participated in my non-scientific study. Here are a few observations:

  • Six methods. On average, companies used about six methods for collecting customer insights. A few used only two or three methods; a handful used 10 or more.
  • Surveys are still prominently used. While some have predicted a decline in survey use, it may just be there is a broader variety of surveys. Web-based surveys topped the list, and other methods, including phone surveys and paper surveys, are still commonly used.
  • Qualitative methods show strong use. Journey mapping, qualitative interviews, and focus groups were all in the top third of those methods mentioned. These highly personalized methods appear to be growing in popularity.
  • Leveraging social media. Social media monitoring was extremely common (fourth). But the use of online communities was much lower on the list (13th).
  • Emerging methods. Website feedback was No. 5 on the list, and methods such as mobile-optimized surveys and in-app feedback, though selected less frequently, will almost certainly be on the rise.

Clearly, this is good news for everyone. CX professionals have more options for collecting relevant customer insights. Company leaders have faster and better access to customer perceptions. Middle managers can better anticipate customer demands; front-line employees can be more responsive. Perhaps most important, customers themselves can provide input when, where, and how they prefer.

But still—how does a customer experience professional implement all of this?


Even with so many new and evolving methods to connect with your customers, today’s companies struggle to collect the customer information they need. Or they gather mounds of data but fall way short in putting it to use.

Today’s customer-focused companies need a comprehensive system, a listening architecture to ensure they garner the best insights from the right customers using the most effective methods. To do this, start with the obvious: No two companies are alike, so it makes sense that you need to develop just the right approach for your company. Then consider these four steps in designing your architecture:

  • Inventory. List all the listening methods your company uses and consider the effectiveness of each method.
  • Objectives. Consider your business objectives and how your customer experience initiatives align with them.
  • Stakeholder needs. Focus on each department, region, and function to determine what customer insights are needed and how they will be put to use.
  • Management. Determine the best methods to manage your customer data. Today’s CX technology platforms have rapidly evolved to help you efficiently analyze, maintain, and distribute customer information.


When I frequent a restaurant with a large selection, I often resort to ordering the same thing each time rather than struggling to pick something different. When it comes to listening to your customers, resist that tendency. Don’t simply continue to send web-based surveys, for instance, because it’s most comfortable. Learn about all the evolving options.

CX professionals don’t have it any easier today. But it is better!

Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a leading customer experience consulting firm. He can be reached at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com.

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