Sure, listening to customers is important. Too much of it can be counterproductive, though.
Surveys, especially, will ultimately bury you with customer malcontent and your own frustrated inaction. Should we ignore customers and what their needs are? Of course not. However, we do spend an awful lot of time collecting and measuring sentiment — and not nearly enough time engaging with customers in more impactful ways.
Hindsight of a Chief Customer Officer
In my many years as a chief customer officer, I wish I had put less emphasis on perfect surveys and impressive reporting and spent more time working on better account management, more productive customer engagement and demonstrable customer outcomes.
The team did great work on all of these things, but we focused first and foremost on data collection, analysis and chronicling the customer experience. The goal was to gently guide the organization toward better customer engagement and realization of value through revealing customer perspectives. Sometimes those perspectives were compelling, and sometimes they just weren’t. The power, we thought, was in dispassionately measuring and analyzing everything we could observe, all the time. While this approach was great on paper, it can be taken too far — and that happens before you know it.
Related Article: Chief Customer Officers: 6 Principles to Reach Maximum Impact
Don’t Be a Chief Scorekeeper
There is a steep price to be paid for centering the office of the chief customer officer around the role of chief scorekeeper. Measurement for its own sake will yield organizational indecision and passivity. Reports are not outcomes. Engagement, business results and transformational changes are.
So, stop asking your customers what they think. In most cases, you already have the answers. And your customers know that you know. Fatigue, frustration and the realization that answering the same questions repeatedly yields diminishing returns and then counter-productivity.
Accept for a moment that investing in customer outcomes is the single most important thing you can do for your own business. The question you should then ask is, exactly what investment will create the best return? Customer feedback is certainly a means to that end, but once you have even some of the answers, get on with the things that are most meaningful. And do that with a manifest sense of immediacy.
I accept that knowing the answers and convincing the rest of your company are two different achievements. There is no substitute for telling the right stories, but the best stories are about what you have materially accomplished and how that creates real value — for your customers and for your company.
Why You Already Know Enough About Customers
Here’s what you likely already know about your customers:
- Your customers are sick of telling you what they think about you. There is a fine line between their input being about them versus focusing entirely on you. As the saying goes, “enough about me, let’s talk about you…. what do you think of me?” Customers often feel that they have already provided feedback, even multiple times, and struggle to see how you have addressed their concerns and suggestions.
- Every interaction you have with your customers is important, so every encounter should be calculated for maximum benefit for the customer and for you. Instead of asking for feedback, it is far more valuable to both parties to engage in some other way — with a focus on partnership, ease of doing business, co-creation of new opportunities, products, or services or very specific outcomes.
- You already know the answers to at least some of your questions. And probably most of them. Instead of conducting a survey or interviewing a customer, contemplate your personal experience with customers or speak with others within your company. The next thing a customer will tell you about you will probably not be a surprise. What your fellow employees tell you about customers is often revealing, and it contributes to a stronger sense of employee engagement. That is always valuable.
- Lastly, a culture rooted in measuring everything has its merits, but quick and decisive action isn’t likely. When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of investing in customers, we are almost always looking at the wrong things. Is it more useful to measure NPS or the productiveness of customer engagement and brand advocacy programs? Or how those programs lead to customer retention and incremental revenue?
Related Article: How Can You Increase Your Share of a Customer’s Life?
What to Do Next for Your Customers
Let’s discuss some action steps to take for truly connected customer experiences:
- Develop new engagement strategies. These should focus on improving joint planning or commercial transaction processes, collaboration among communities of customers, product adoption or the realization of value.
- Engage your top executives and build top level peer-to-peer customer relationships through executive sponsorship and executive engagement programs. Whether your business is B2B or B2C, every single senior leader should be highly visible among your customers, and there are proven structured ways to make this happen.
- Launch a change management program to address specific customer feedback themes. During my chief customer officer tenure, we ran a change management program, which we called “The Top 10.” We identified and tracked 10 broad customer feedback themes that significantly affected customer experience and outcomes.
- While one essential role of the chief customer officer (or head of customer success or CX leader) is to be an evangelist, less talk and more action is a hallmark of an effective leader. The greatest business leaders are highly engaged with customers every day, model the right behaviors in plain sight and are truly action-oriented.
Customers: Your Most Crucial Asset
Valuable resources are inherently precious, and the greatest impact you can make on your business is through investing in customers as the most crucial asset you have.
Thoughtful, systematic investment drives consistent returns. The ability to quickly respond to unexpected opportunities is another core element of a thriving, strategic-thinking enterprise. And there is no better platform for response to those opportunities than being intimately connected to your customers.