Listening to your customers is the number one task for CEOs. Your company depends on this conversation.
I listed it as number one in my blog post last week, Small Business CEOs: There's Only 3 Daily Tasks, and explained there why it is a slightly higher priority than listening to your employees.
The operative word is slight and it’s ever-so.
Why? Customers are your most independent and selfish critics. They have no vested interests in your product or service. They only care how it answers 3 questions from their perspective:
- What’s in it for me?
- Why should I believe?
- Why should I care?
Today’s customers have choices at their fingertips. Social media tells the world what they chose...before your first coffee cup.
And with a mouse-click, they become ex-customers and create a posse hunting for your brand. Or, another mouse-click converts that same posse into a community of evangelists who volunteer to sale your products around the world.
Regardless, they pay your bills, fund your incentives, bonuses and benefits and trust their reputation with you to help them reach their goals.
You have many ways to listen to your customers. These include internal reports, survey results, online conversations, customer conferences, and focus groups. I’ll review some here. There will be more tools by the time many read this post.
However, pick one. Do it daily.
Here is the most effective way:
Talk with your customers. 1 to 1. You. The CEO. Few actions flatter a customer more than the CEO of one of their service providers asking to speak with them. Nothing is as effective as YOU, the CEO, hearing in their words, what your customer thinks about your company.
This is a plan I followed to talk to 50 customers per month. I needed 30 minutes per day.
1. Prepare a list of 5 customers to call the following day. Why 5? Your goal is 2-3. You’ll find phone numbers have changed, contacts have left, extensions changed. Your job is to speak to customers, not update your records. Some days, you’ll speak with 4, other days 0.
2. Search your database.
3. Target a specific customer category: Big billers, newest, oldest, most referrals (You track the source of your referrals, right? ).
4. Review their records. Know their services; understand their relationship with your company before you call. Touch on them during your call. It communicates they are important and you are prepared.
5. Block out 30 minutes daily. I recommend the first hour of every day. Remember: it’s your most important task. Take a list with you when you travel. It’s a good way to spend time between flights.
6. Follow-up after each call with an email. Cover the points you discussed. Include your personal contact information. I included my cell phone.
7. Note on the customer record the call and any outstanding issues discussed.
8. Note the call even if you reached voice mail.
9. Follow-up with Customer Service or Sales as needed.
Teaser: 30% of my calls generated interest in other services. Sales happened with 50% of these follow-up calls.
Caveat: I had to speak in-person to the customer.
Bottomline: It’s worth your time.
I introduced myself.
I apologized for interrupting.
I assured them I was not calling to sell them something.
Then, I asked: “Are you happy with our service?”
Ultimate Question Survey: I followed up with the Ultimate Question Survey.
- Would you recommend us to a friend or colleague?
- On a scale of 0-10 how likely would you be to recommend us to a friend or colleague?
Based on their responses, I’d ask:
- Customer response: 8 - 10. I'd ask: What did you say when you recommended us?
- Customer response: 0 - 7 I'd ask: What do we need to do change your answer to 8 or higher?
Option 1. Regularly work in Customer Service. Sit at their desks, listen to the customers’ stories, use the customer database, experience your policies as they reach the customer, rationalize them to your customers, see how the other departments deliver your services.
Then ask yourself the Ultimate Question:
- Would I recommend our company to a friend or colleague?
Bonus: You build trust and loyalty when you sit at their desks, doing their jobs.
Option 2: Unanswered calls ring to your telephone. After 6 rings to customer service or sales, program the calls to ring to your telephone. You gain insights daily. The caller is alway impressed to hear CEO take their call. Impressing customers is how you generate word-of-mouth.
Note: there are many ways and many resources to interact directly, personally, with customers. My favorites include:
Set up Google Alerts to notify you when your company is mentioned online in forums or blogs or in the news. Then join the conversation. Comment and reply. Work quickly to move the conversation into a personal setting. In the process you’re showcasing your company as responsive, caring, pro-active, and a leader. And those forums and your message can, will be, spread quickly. You’re part of the conversation, regardless. This approach makes the conversation meaningful and positive for your brand.
Twitter is a powerful resource. If your customers are talking about you on Twitter. You need to join that conversation. Use Search.twitter.com to find the conversations where your name is mentioned. Then join the conversation. Frank Eliason, Comcastcares on Twitter, did. He, first single-handedly and then with his team changed the online conversation of Comcast from that of an evil empire to that of a caring, customer-centric corporation.
The rigid artificial setting makes this model expensive, time-consuming and generates results often skewed. Only giant Daddy Warbucks corporations have the time and money for focus groups.
- Customer cancels
- Customer payments
- Customer service calls
- Length of customer service calls
- Customer conversion. A higher percentage shows more referrals. A declining percentage shows fewer.
- Shorter is better.
- Get to the point. Survey for one point.
- Interrupt your customer no more than once every 90 days.
- I recommend the Ultimate Question Survey. It asks the Ultimate Question. Will the customer put their personal reputation on the line for your company.
- Would recommend us to a friend or colleague?
- And the customer tells you in their own words.
And that is your ultimate mission: generating referrals.
And you’re listening for what wows your customers.
What you’ll learn is simple: where, how, when and why your brand wows your customers. Or doesn’t.
Talk to your customers daily. Your lessons are daily. You apply what you learn on the next day. That creates a sustainable kaizen, a system of constant refinements, with the goal being to generate more referrals.