How to truly listen to customers

Everyone wants to be heard and feel that they have a voice. This is just as true for your customers.  Your contact centre is a crucial tool to show them that you’re listening and to produce actionable information to improve your service.

Your contact centre is a critical communications hub for interacting with your customers.  Importantly, it also provides a rich source of data about customers intentions, motivations and attitudes that can be mined to discover insights that be used to improve your service

Today, large organizations often face multiple priorities, which can sometimes lead them to lose focus on what really matters.  Take customer interactions, for example. Small firms may start by prioritising the customer and ensuring that everything revolves around them, but as they grow and become more complex, they can lose their way. Different departments can concentrate on different management challenges, and can forget that single, important priority.

In this scenario, the customer, who once had a voice in the organisation, can end up feeling lost and disempowered. How can organisations regain that focus?

Understanding the customer experience

 A customer’s relationship with a business today can be viewed as a journey which goes from their early product research, through their purchase of the product and its delivery, and finally through to after-sales service.  What the customer experiences at each stage of the journey can have a huge impact on their likelihood to become a long term, loyal customer and repeat purchaser.  Did the call centre answer the customer’s call promptly? Was the agent knowledgeable? Did a customer’s parcel arrive as expected? All of these are questions that a company should be asking itself.

Companies need a joined-up view of this customer experience. They must then be prepared to listen to them at all points along that journey. The contact centre is a pivotal hub in that process, because in a mature company it is the primary point of contact with the customer across many different touchpoints, whether phone, web chat, SMS, or email.

Measuring customer satisfaction quantitatively is definitely one part of this process. At Orange Business, we have talked before about the importance of getting customer feedback using surveys and analysing data such as average abandonment rates. Any truly effective customer relationship program must include an element of satisfaction measurement.

Analytics has traditionally played a big role in measuring customer satisfaction. Crunching survey numbers and other metrics such as call waiting times is a useful way to quantify the customer experience. But what about that more qualitative information that may often be relayed in customer conversations?

From quantitative to qualitative

When a customer tells a call centre agent that they’re considering moving to another supplier because of a product delivery issue, this valuable information may be lost because there is no easy way to record it in a measurable way.

Call recording already makes such anecdotes a point of record, but now, companies can use software to mine it for insights, turning this qualitative information into quantitative data.

Voice analysis software can convert speech into text with a high degree of accuracy. These voice analytics systems can be used to scan for key words, such as competitors’ names, or emotive words such as ‘disappointment’, ‘frustrated’, ‘positive’ or ‘happy’.

This process extends beyond mere phone calls. Companies cannot ignore social media as a key component in customer experience measurement. Many enterprise-class services now exist that help organisations to scan social media networks for their own product or company names, and even to conduct sentiment analysis about those things.

Systematic listening

These tools form part of a platform that will enable companies to truly hear what customers are saying, empowering them to take action and respond to customer needs. It can be the basis for a broad reaching program that tackles not just customer phone calls, but takes into account the whole customer experience. At Orange, we call this a Voice of the Customer program. It does what you’d think would be a priority in many companies, but isn’t: it promotes the customer to be a first-class citizen.

What actions can companies take based on this information? In many cases, individual customer complaints or concerns may reveal valuable insights in aggregate. If one customer experiences a problem with a product delivery, that may not be significant. If several customers do, it may trigger a conversation with the delivery service that the company is using to avoid it becoming a systematic issue.

A properly-developed contact centre will be the sharp end of this process. It is the blade that carves out this information from customer interactions and delivers it to the Voice of the Customer program in a usable format.

But there are other stakeholders, too. Ideally, every line of business that has even an indirect engagement with the customer should have some resource devoted to this issue. In a truly mature customer experience management program, a Chief Experience Officer will manage this entire process, bringing all of the stakeholders together.

Customer information of this kind is invaluable for those that have access to it. Not only does it enable companies to better understand their customers, but it gives them the opportunity to show that they’re listening.

In all relationships, personal and professional, people value the chance to be heard and acknowledged. In a business relationship where customers are putting their faith and trust in a company and paying for goods or services, it is an even more important component. Don’t be deaf to what your customers are saying.

Gordon Loader
Gordon Loader

Gordon Loader is a specialist in Digital Transformation, with a consultative approach to solving customer business challenges and delivering positive business outcomes.

Gordon has been most recently focused on the Internet of Things and Big Data and Analytics as foundation elements for the data-driven business, enabling organizations to build competitive advantage through informed decision making and fast execution.

He devotes his spare time to family and friends and enjoys keeping abreast of developments in the worlds of business, technology and finance.