Start the Customer Conversation


I’ll admit it — as a psychologist I am not a traditional customer service expert. However, I did spend a couple of years analyzing customer trends at a major telecom company. It was a an interesting experience to say the least. But, after a period of time it was clear that what customers were actually saying, didn’t really matter as much as what the organization thought they were saying. The discrepancy kept me awake nights. (honestly).

During that time, I received quite a few nasty calls about the shape and size of  the bills and how they wouldn’t fit into a standard size envelope (This is absolutely true). I never really did understand why the bills were an odd shape — or how those calls ultimately reached my desk. However, customers usually had a clear message to offer. Often I agreed with them.

Being open to the entire customer conversation, even the potential criticism that comes along with the territory — is critical to an organization’s overall health.  Not attending to this has been the source of many a downfall.

Ultimately, ignoring hard to hear feedback will lead to serious issues down the road. One thing is certain, if you fail to gather customer feedback regularly —  you may also fail to notice key opportunities to develop wisely.

It is never too early (or late) to start that conversation. Starting an open dialogue with your customers is truly a gift to any business. While it may seem difficult to get the ball rolling, there are many sources available to help you with much of the heavy lifting.

Here are a few ideas to establish a healthy dialogue:

  • Embrace the concept of a “Customer Journey”. I first noticed this concept in a blog post at the Harvard Business Review (read about it here). Essentially, it describes the notion that when an organization interfaces with customers, they meet at more than one “touch point”.  As  a result, organizations have more than one chance to build a relationship or alienate them. Tracing this journey — a little like picking up bread crumbs in the forest — can reveal opportunities to enhance the customer experiences.
  • Listen to the whole story. You could blame a poor customer outcome on procedures — or even the customer himself. But, guaranteed, there is another side of the story. Do a post-mortum on customer relationship problems and losses. Make it your business to know your end of  the problem. Always blaming the customer (or any other external element) is definitely taking the “cheap” way out.
  • Open the channels. Let customers know that their opinion matters utilizing 21st century methods. Open a two-way conversation through Facebook, Twitter or a company blog. Utilize the nifty polling and survey techniques help you along. Getting real-time information about what customers are thinking is nothing short of superb.
  • Utilize research to roll out new products/services. Thanks to the internet any organization has the opportunity to test ideas and products. Today, a large research staff just isn’t necessary to contemplate new product offerings or packages.  Put the ideas out there and get the feedback you need. Remember The Gap and their proposed logo revision? You too, can avoid such catastrophes.
  • Manage your social presence.  The evolution of communication and technology has demanded us to pay attention to our “social persona”. However, simply being there doesn’t mean you are maximizing the opportunity. Monitor information coming in from channels, but also set a course for the information that will be shared. (Often messages can appear trite and disconnected.) Listen and respond to customers. Your brand and and its social presence are forever intertwined.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Organizational Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. You can find her on Twitter and Linkedin.


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