Tethr Blog
Ted McKenna

Listening for loyalty: How to win consideration and avoid churn by searching for CX pain

So far in our Listening Enterprise series, we have mostly outlined assumptions that “listening” organizations avoid. Our last marker is the opposite – or perhaps the lone exception, depending on how you look at it – about the one abiding assumption nearly all of the best “listening” organizations make: the status quo is always untenable.

If you’re just catching up, our Listening Enterprise series outlines the ways in which listening organizations continually upend even long-held assumptions in search for customer loyalty. And they do that by listening to two-way exchanges, interpreting exchanges to understand why customers feel they way they do, and translate that into specific treatment of frontline employees.

It’s ironic to rely on one assumption as a way to upend others. But what “listening” teams strive for is growth. There’s an expression that speaks to this usage of status quo as inspiration for change. It’s one my former colleagues and I came across while researching some of the best Challenger sales organizations (if memory serves, it was best encapsulated by our friends at Automatic Data Processing). The saying goes: in order to win consensus on change, you must demonstrate the pain of same is greater than the pain of change.

Tethr’s experience with the best “listening” teams spins that phrase a bit: same IS pain. Assume there is pain – sometimes even in victory – and search for it.

Importantly, this is not to say they view all process adherence and consistency as inherently bad. It’s hard to scale anything without some degree of repeatability. But it does mean an active effort to find bugs in the system and, once found, remaining open about that being a feature masquerading as a bug. In contrast, “telling” organizations are more likely to smash that bug – or worse, ignore or miss the pain entirely and, by extension, settle for suboptimal outcomes.

What does searching for pain, whether voiced by a customer or rep, look like? Observing many “listening” organizations reveals three big differences in how they search versus “telling” organizations:

Listen to silence
What is happening when nothing is happening? “Listening” teams have so thoroughly explored how situations present themselves in conversation that they can spot not just when it’s happening (and why) but, importantly, when it should have happened and didn’t.

To illustrate further, consider the following scenario: a rep finds a way to convert a sale. But the customer sounded hesitant all the way through and, though they did buy, the size of purchase is 50% of what it could have been.

How should one interpret the situation? An offer was accepted, the sale was completed, and the rep gets commission. A “telling” organization likely banks the win and moves on, content to land a customer in hopes of future expansion. A “listening” organization, however, is listening in part for what didn’t happen and not just what did. Why was the deal size lower than expected? What caused the hesitation? What might this mean in terms of our ability to convert future customers or expand this one?

Or in another situation, perhaps a customer fills out a post-call survey reporting a middling NPS score – not very high, but also not very low. But further examination of the data shows the customer stayed loyal and six months later even purchased additional products.

A “telling” organization likely banks the loyalty and excuses away the middling NPS score. A “listening” organization is more likely to dig back into that initial call to understand what the customer said without saying it. In the likely event that experience was subpar, the “listening” team is wary of fleeting loyalty and looks for ways to fix similar situations in the future.

In both scenarios, what “listening” teams recognize is consideration – even selection – is inferior to amplification. Which can come in the form of bigger purchases, greater future share-of-wallet, or advocacy on your behalf.

Same here, in other words, means lower-than-desired amplification. Searching for unarticulated pain results in higher growth in the form of longer-term and healthier loyalty.

Listen beyond the interaction
It is human nature to focus only on what we can control. In a service or sales organization, where customers interact with reps and agents, it’s easy to get caught up in analyzing what happened entirely through the lens directly in front of you. What can be done to help that rep improve? How can we help that specific customer who just hung up?

But searching for pain also requires searching laterally, often beyond what is explicitly mentioned or directly in play within a conversation. For example, Tethr helped a company in the home services industry analyze thousands of calls over a given timeframe. They were facing a high rate of cancellations from relatively new customers (sometimes cancels even before the first service visit).

Our first step was to examine the cancellation calls themselves. Here, customers said things like:

· “it’s not what I wanted,”
· “I don’t think I need all of that,” or
· “it’s just too expensive.”

After connecting those situations back to the original sales conversation, it was immediately clear those same customers voiced plenty of often price-based hesitation. “Telling” organizations would likely see such a connection and – correctly – conclude reps were too aggressive in continuing to sell even in the face of such hesitation. No wonder those customers later cancelled, they’d surmise. Moreover, undoubtedly addressing this type of behavior within the sales organization would in fact reduce future cancellations.

But this Tethr customer – a true “listening” organization – recognized the real, long-term fix was not something they directly controlled but nonetheless would continue to face. Root-causing the hesitation surfaced a more nuanced situation. Customers were actually confused about a pricing plan with too much variation and too many options. That was the cause of the price-based hesitation. Only after sharing that insight with the product team – and working together to land at a plan clear for reps and customers alike – did this company reduce early cancellations in a sustainable way.

Same here, in other words, means ongoing temporary band-aids. Searching for the pain, even when that search takes you outside of your own four walls, results in more permanent fixes.

Listen in a far-sighted manner
More than ever before, the perceived quality of the customer experience is influenced by experiences we don’t control.

We live in an omni-channel world where – in one single day – a customer might interact with a company’s email marketing message, chat with a bot, speak to a customer service agent, and purchase a bundle of goods on the website. In fact, in the process of finalizing that purchase, that same customer may flip over to three other tabs – maybe their bank to check funds, Amazon to compare prices, and Yelp to read reviews – before hopping back to the original site. They might further search for a new app that delivers portions of what you sell but in an a la carte fashion. You’re a consumer products company but your customers now compare your experience – side by side, interchangeably – with banks, tech companies, startup apps and anything else just a click away.

What’s happening is customers are in a state of always-on consideration. We’re used to honeymoon periods – sometimes quantified in years – whereby we have time to prove out promises made and, where missteps occur, opportunities to improve on or make it up to the customer. But today, comparison shopping is free, near frictionless (count the number of “free trial” emails you get over the course of a month), and only a click away.

Your customers think of you horizontally but too often we listen to them vertically, within the context of our own niche; our own industry; our own lenses. This myopia leaves us vulnerable in ways that are hard to quantify.

Let’s revisit the scenarios laid out earlier. That hesitant customer who bought anyway – “listening” organizations recognize how vulnerable that customer is to poaching, precisely because always-on consideration weaponizes hesitancy into trial experiences delivered by others. The customer who is loyal in spite of subpar experiences – “listening” organizations know this leaves them vulnerable to a top competitor stealing longtime customers just by creating frictionless switch costs. We can all relate. I certainly can, as someone who switched airline loyalty as soon as a top competitor matched my status level.

Same here, in other words, means an ongoing experience competition. Searching for pain results in boxing out competitors and customers so loyal they never even consider looking at your bill much less that enticing free trial.

In our next and final post on the Listening Enterprise series, we will introduce a maturity model detailing how even the best “listening” organizations improve over time.

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