You know by now that there are three ways to achieve customer understanding: Listen (feedback and data), Characterize (personas), and Empathize (journey mapping process). Of these three, probably the one that is used most often – or the one that most companies use (whether they act on it or just check the box) – is Listen.

The most-popular listening channel, without a doubt, is surveys. But there are some challenges when it comes to using this listening tool – as well as any of the others. Let’s run through those challenges. It’s not an all-encompassing list, for sure, but I’ll offer up some links for other content to consider as you ponder these challenges.

  • Inducing survey fatigue: People get surveyed about everything, about every experience. Survey wisely. Or better yet, listen wisely. Listen wherever or however your customers want to provide feedback, including directly with your employees. Related to this is…
  • Not taking advantage of other listening channels: There are a variety of avenues for customers to leave feedback – be there. Whether that’s social media, online reviews, or through your employees, be ready to listen and capture what’s being said. Use other tools to get feedback, as well, such as: 1:1 or in-depth interviews, focus groups, customer advisory boards, and more.
  • Forgetting that the survey/respondent experience is part of the customer experience. It’s another touchpoint with your organization; make it a pleasant experience.
  • Asking “self-fulfilling prophecies:” Don’t ask questions to validate what you know in a way that you already know it – or with a positive spin to lead the witness, er, respondent. And remember: surveys don’t sell.
  • Not using the bread crumbs of data that customers leave behind as they interact or transact with your brand. On its own, but especially when combined with customer feedback, this is a rich source of data for a more-robust analysis. The challenge here is that this data is often in disparate systems or not easy to access.
  • Not sharing the feedback: first, you need to close the loop on your feedback; in this post, I share the five ways you’ve got to close the loop, which includes socializing the feedback with individual employees, departments, and executives.
  • Not acting on the feedback: You can’t just listen, check the box, and move on. You’ve got to use what you’ve learned to improve the experience. And then you need to let customers know what you did with their feedback. This is the best incentive you can provide for them to continue to provide feedback.
  • Changing expectations: Yup, changing customer expectations are a listening challenge. It’s like whack a mole; once you think you’ve understood customer expectations, they change or evolve. The challenge here is to keep listening (and update your surveys to learn more about these new expectations), continuously; keep sharing the feedback you hear on the ground; and don’t ignore the weak signals and emerging trends because they could quickly turn into strong signals. In other words, never stop listening, analyzing, and acting.
  • Focusing on the metric: It’s true that if you focus on the people the numbers will come. Focusing on the metric leads to, well, doing what it takes to drive the metric and not really caring about the experience or what it takes to improve the experience. I’ve written about Goodhart’s Law a couple times before: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Don’t let that happen; instead do this: listen, learn, analyze, and act. And watch the needle move on the metric because customers had a great experience, not because you’re begging for a score.
  • Only listening to your best customers: You know this happens. Customers from whom you’ll ask for feedback were cherry-picked because you know you’ll hear great things and get, well, a great score. That’s not helpful at all.
  • Similarly, not listening to lost customers or prospects: You’re missing an opportunity to find out why they buy or don’t buy or why they no longer want to do business with your company. Don’t make this mistake. They’re a rich source of learning.

These are just some of the challenges companies face as they execute on their customer listening strategies, but I think there’s enough there to get you thinking about (a) which of these you see in your company’s listening efforts and (b) how you might need to do things differently. The strategy has to be end-to-end; it can’t just be about how you’ll get the feedback, as there is so much more that goes into it.

Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery. ~ Dr. Joyce Brothers

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is now available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

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