We had an interesting conversation on Twitter a couple of days ago where Jeremy Meyers was saying that if organizations appoint one person to listening to customers, the rest of the organization would feel exonerated somehow from caring. While Olivier Blanchard's experience led him to respond that the way companies are structured, if you want something done, you have to make someone own it. Be responsible for it.
My take is that there isn't a division anymore with the Internet people doing their magic, as Jeremy wrote, the direct response people, the public relations group, advertising, and internal communications. With the fast disappearance of a clear demarcation between personal/professional, there is also (or there should be) a more integrated approach to marketing and communications in business today.
An experienced team of communicators and marketers should know how to work together and tie what they do to business results. Whoever in that team operates under the scarcity mindset loses - personally and professionally. They may get the proverbial cookie today, but in the long run they develop the prima donna reputation and in a marketplace that thrives on collaboration, working together is critical to success.
That's where listening comes in. Customers are internal, too. Should you have a chief listening officer? Jeremy argued that it's a ridiculous title/job. We probably thought the same when we saw the first project manager titles - aren't we all called to manage projects as part of our job?
Given that I clearly had more to say than we could do justice on Twitter, I thought this would be a good topic for a post on customer conversations. Why would you have a person assigned to listening? What are the benefits of setting aside a precious headcount for this function? There are many reasons why. Here are a few:
(1.) To affect change, you need to have the big picture - while you indeed listen to customers on separate opportunities when delivering service or providing support, you won't be able to see the patterns at that level.
(2.) To take action, you need to know what you're listening for - even though using listening tools is helpful, you still need a person to gather all feedback and make sense of it. Saying that you don't would be akin to saying that anyone can do research who can ask questions.
(3.) To drive decisions, you need to have support for your theories - since I mentioned research, there are all kinds of ways in which you can collect feedback and ideas from the community. Quantitative and qualitative studies can benefit from contextual information.
(4.) To figure out what else gets the job done, and might take your place in the market - let's face it as customers we don't buy on the basis of product or service benefits. We buy to get a job done. And today we have more alternatives than we could ever have time to explore. That's why listening in on conversations can clue us in better as to what gets the job done and how do customers evaluate that.
(5.) To be effective, you need experience and practice - if this is one of the many functions you have, you will not get there fast enough. You need to improve your speed in listening and understanding to develop a habit of responding instead of reacting.
This is a senior role, one that could be married with customer community or advocacy, depending on the type of organization. There are some interesting job titles that are starting to take hold. Connie Bensen just became the director of community strategy and architecture at Alterian (congratulations on the acquisition, Connie).
Today at Fast Company Expert blog we take a look at couple of simple, yet deal-making principles to understand what customers want.
Do you really need a person dedicated to listening? Who does the listening in your organization? Is it a 1/4 of their job? Does your new product and service development rely on listening? Are you familiar with outcome-driven innovation?
[image of listening post by Fenchurch!]