“You have to listen to those who speak, if you want to be heard. “wrote the moralist François de La Rochefoucauld, a reminder that is still relevant for companies that continually want to stand out.
This need to listen, although not recent, now appears complex. The well-marked customer journey of yesteryear no longer exists. Businesses evolve in an environment where real and virtual identity merge, where the need for ultra-personalization is becoming widespread, and where the means of sharing one’s opinion are multiplying.
Although the majority of companies integrate the notion of customer experience into their strategic approach, very often they are still hampered by their inability to instil a culture of listening to the customer among their employees. For this to be effective, employees, in perfect harmony, must benefit from listening to decision-makers. There is indeed a causal link between the two listenings since an employee listened to by his hierarchy will be more attentive to customers and more inclined to report key information. If this causality seems obvious, it is not always well understood in companies. Result: the dominant approach is to react to customer demands rather than anticipate them.
Expectations and experiences: a precarious balance
First of all, it is necessary to concretely define the fundamental notion of customer experience. This refers to the sum of a customer’s interactions with a brand through the various communication channels. These interactions extend from the brand discovery phase to the customer loyalty phase, passing through the anticipation of the need. Every interaction, real or virtual, contributes to shaping, positively or not, the perception of the brand by the customer.
The customer experience cannot therefore be conceived without integrating a key ingredient: customer expectations. They are the result of a unique combination of company values, past experiences with other companies and with the company itself. So many factors that will unconsciously generate expectations that are not fixed in time. However, it is the actions of the company that have the most impact on the perception of the customer along his journey. The company must therefore control the interactions and thus trace a course corresponding to the expectations of the different types of customers.
A necessary symmetry between customers and employees
Most of the time, the observation is the same: employees determine actions intended for their customers without really trying to project themselves into the shoes of the customer. They are content, for convenience, for lack of time, to follow specific instructions or third-party strategies. This robotic way of performing actions negatively impacts businesses.
In order to push back their limits and thus reach new frontiers, it is crucial for them to promote a different corporate culture. A change of mentality must take place in order to consider first the customer experience, then the products and services of the company. Every daily decision must be analyzed and executed through the lens of the customer. This mentality must be reflected in each initiative and become one of the pillars of the strategy.
What does the customer think? Does this action meet one of his needs? What are my clients’ issues and what can I do to help them solve them? So many questions that must become a reflex for each employee.
Beyond these questions, the term “client” which, in the past, under the Roman Empire designated the vassal or the protege, is also completely redefined. From now on, it must not only be granted know-how but also a precious quality. He is no longer simply a person devoid of know-how who buys a service or a product, but a potential partner for progress with whom a relationship must be built. To be able to fully listen to its customers, a transition from transactional to relational, via the adoption of a broader definition of the word “customer”, must therefore take place.
From an operational perspective, internal thinking focusing on its existing processes should no longer be the sole driver of business initiatives. It must push its limits by adopting an approach where customer feedback helps guide the company’s actions and not the other way around.
Three Steps to Effective Listening
In order for listening to customers to have a positive and lasting impact on their experience, each company must follow a three-step plan:
- First of all, you must not only be able to collect customer feedback, digitally and physically, but above all provide a process within the company that allows you to make corrections to better meet needs and not repeat endless malfunctions. What’s the point of listening to your customers if nothing happens afterwards…
- Then, the emergence of this almost obsessive culture of listening to the customer requires the understanding and then the support of employees. Attention, claiming to develop a culture of listening to its customers without having first established a parallel culture of listening to employees is harmful. Indeed, the two are complementary and represent two essential cogs in the same machine. It seems obvious, but a happy employee will deliver better service to the customer because he will be more attentive. This essential aspect should in no way be underestimated and requires change management adapted to the company.
- Finally, the company must put in place processes to monitor the use of its products and services with its customers via indicators based on data. The goal is to take a proactive approach built into the governance model that will automatically predict and anticipate customer demands.
Towards a cultural big bang in business
Although increasingly complex, due in particular to the proliferation of channels (purchasing, communication, etc.), listening to customers is key in a company’s strategy. Its growth, even its survival, depends on it. The time of the 4Ps is definitely over and the product, although still capital, has given way to the customer. To constantly adapt to market changes, this symmetry between customer experience and employee experience must be built gradually and remain dynamic. It is necessary to operate a major cultural change which must materialize through new habits, codes, benchmarks, lexicons, etc. Appointing ambassadors of this culture can be very effective in building consensus. Since change is in essence permanent, in this casting, it will naturally be necessary to take on board people who are receptive to the permanent changes in customer needs and, above all, capable of adapting to them.
Ultimately, this new culture of listening to customers and employees will have a significant impact on each employee initiative and will become a habit for everyone, which will naturally spread to new recruits.
However, systematic listening to the customer must also be put into perspective according to strategic analyses, because dependence on simple listening can also represent a risk. The customer does not systematically indicate the best way to meet his needs, or may find it difficult to clearly state his future needs, this is the challenge of knowing how to go beyond customer feedback. Let’s remember Henry Ford’s famous phrase: “If I had asked my clients what they wanted, they would have answered me: a faster horse”.
Author : Eytan HattemChief Innovation & Business Solutions Officer, Prodware Group
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