Many companies claim that they are customer-centric, but few are really good at it. Often the problem is with the types of listening techniques we use to develop our customer understanding. In today’s dynamic, interconnected and increasingly digital market environments, traditional customer listening approaches are not effective on their own.

As customer engagement continues moving to digital platforms and the need for differentiation increases, suppliers must develop an ongoing, dynamic, customer-centric way of gathering, mining, analyzing and interpreting customer input and intelligence. As Peter Drucker once said, “The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.”

Consider the following to gain a more complete view:

  • Understand whom your customers listen to and trust. When we focus only on listening to customers, we miss an opportunity to understand what is influencing the things they say and do. As customers delay engagement with suppliers – and with much of the buyer’s journey now online – marketers must understand who customers listen to, where they go for advice and who they trust. Marketers can tap into a variety of social media monitoring tools (free and fee-based) for help in building that understanding, as well as by asking customers themselves and by building knowledge of the ecosystem of influencers in customers’ industries, for example.
  • Listen to what customers say – and watch what they do, too. Every year companies spend time, resources and effort to collect customer sentiment and opinions via customer surveys, focus groups, voice-of-the-customer initiatives, win/loss analysis, etc. That’s a good starting point, but be sure to leverage customer surveys to also understand what your customers actually do (you can achieve this by collecting stated and derived importance of offering attributes). Furthermore, be sure to balance direct customer feedback with knowledge of observable customer behavior such as online behavior, buyer’s journey touch analysis and social media monitoring.
  • Don’t make customer feedback all about the seller. To gain deep customer understanding, the questions can’t always be about what you sell and how they like working with you. Instead, determine what your customers are trying to achieve by using your product or service and how they will evaluate success. What business outcomes are they trying to achieve? This approach is powerful, because it allows you to develop a language that is customer-specific and can be leveraged in a number of ways, including persona-based marketing (tasks and business outcomes will vary by stakeholder), campaigns, marketing collateral, Web site content and sales tools.