Why listening for customer context is essential

Ted McKenna

November 16, 2018

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A few weeks ago, my colleague Matt Dixon explained the difference between a “listening” and a “telling” organization. A “telling” organization is one that holds fast to long-held assumptions about what’s best for customers; whereas a “listening” organization is continually looking for insights, open to the idea that their assumptions—irrespective of size and no matter how well-intended—may turn out wrong.More recently, we detailed a clear and powerful marker of what we’ve come to call a Listening Enterprise: how a company treats its frontline employees. In particular, the extent to which they empower their reps and let them use their own judgment.

Customers crave clarity

It’s not an accident listening organizations trust and empower their teams at the point of sales and service. It’s a deliberate reaction to the complexity today’s customers face when interacting with companies. Despite best efforts to provide a frictionless customer experience, the fact remains customers of all stripes still wade through a flood of information, navigate multiple channels and weigh endless options when interacting with companies. Beyond all this lies even more complexity from within a customer’s own world: scars from previous vendor failures or the consensus-building needed to make big decisions like changing a life insurance policy or pulling the trigger on a large business purchase.Listening organizations were likely the first ones to spot these secular trends – and, working back from outcomes such as what really drives customer loyalty, pivoted in how they ask their frontline teams to engage customers. In contrast, telling organizations, facing the same reality, typically buckle down, attribute any difficulties to poor execution and focus on getting teams “back to basics” on what’s always worked. Clinging to conventional wisdom, they say things like:

"Surely we just aren’t displaying enough empathy.""We have to continue trying to meet the customer in whatever channel they prefer.""We’re just too undisciplined in delivering the tried and true script."

You might not know your customers are lost

They'd believe this in spite of clear research questioning the effectiveness of each of these approaches. Listening organizations instead would have noticed how their smartest customers evolved, or how high performers’ behaviors diverted, and moved to learn from those interactions and improve their processes.What’s important to recognize about the complexity customers face is that much of it happens unbeknownst to the company – out of eyesight, ear shot and often not involving them at all. This is part of why, when a customer calls into a service desk, the call reason is typically not singular but plural. It’s very common for Tethr to find calls initiated for anywhere from 10-15 reasons – on a single call.

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Not all listening is created equal

Listening organizations observe all this complexity and realize not all listening is the same. We’ve already established one major indicator of listening in the right way - by recognizing this increase in customer context and knowing that translates into highly complex conversations with many moving parts, Listening Enterprises move to empower their frontline to exhibit judgment around how to best navigate towards loyalty-driven outcomes.The next major marker of a Listening Enterprise is about how we listen. Merely waiting to talk until after the customer, viewing victory as lowering rep talk time, is not listening – or at least, not how the best organizations listen. This is also not just about putting your “ear to the customer ground” and doubling down on any and all feedback.The best Listening Enterprises listen in stereo, not mono. More things happen on a given call than ever before. We call this the concurrence rate - many simultaneous issues occurring at the same time - and it has never been higher. Additionally, many important customer experiences happen before, during and after a customer conversation (and, again, some of this may not even be about the company). Every conversation has context that materially affects its likely path, the potential outcome and perceived quality. Keyword spotting just isn’t going to cut it.

Ask the right questions

The only way to learn what is necessary to improve – what type of language is most connected to the outcomes you care about, what are customers telling you about their world - is to listen in full stereo. Investigate where you fit into the customer’s story, mining two-way exchanges for clues. Unfortunately, too many listen in mono - checking only for script adherence, examining one-sided data sources, trying to make business-impacting decisions on surface-level keyword spotting.Listening in stereo in service settings may start with determining what caused the call. In sales, what led the customer to accept the call? What is the customer’s history that informs their perspective? Where are they in their decision cycle? Who else may weigh in on the decision to buy, stay or leave? Understanding the language used in these situations – by both rep and customer – profoundly informs the company’s perspective on engagement effectiveness and strategic efficacy.

Generate meaningful insights

One Tethr customer in the Financial Services space routinely pulls what we’d call ‘stereo reports,' where conditions are clearly set to allow for a contextualized understanding. It is much easier to ascertain why certain sales objections are particularly thorny when analyzed in context for how different types of agents respond. Another Tethr customer in the Telecom space uses these stereo-style reports that surface customer context to correlate customer effort – a known driver of customer disloyalty – with specific language uttered by both agent and customer.Think of this almost as a grand exercise in decoding customer language by examining it within the context of phrases your team uses and the factors surrounding their continued connection to your company. With that knowledge, you can then better understand what’s broken in the customer experience and begin the process of fixing.Stepping back, listening in stereo makes sense because customers operate in stereo, not mono. By listening for customer context in this way, you can generate far more powerful insights about customer experiences that drive real loyalty and economic outcomes.Learn more about how Tethr is helping customers listen in stereo to transform their business.Note: When we reference stereo and mono in this post, we're not talking about literal audio recordings. It's a metaphor. Tethr can help you take a "stereo" approach to customer listening even if you're recording in mono.

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