Customers Are Talking: You Can't Listen to Customers if You Hate Them

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by: John Caddell

Every Tuesday, this space will cover "Customers Are Talking… Are You Listening?"

"Customers Are Talking" builds on the work I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years in product management, sales & account management, & specifically on the story-listening work I’ve embarked upon in the past year. (I cheated a little by sneaking in two posts on this subject yesterday.)

It was great to read a recent interview with one of the quietest great thinkers I know, Cynthia Kurtz.

While discussing some things she had learned in her work helping companies and governments gather and work with stories from customers and employees, she said this:

Several times now [in these projects] I have seen people viewing their clients or customer or employees or constituents with contempt, for example equating weakness, confusion or ignorance with insignificance, low status/value/worth or even wrongdoing.

As I read this I was surprised and shocked, yet at the same time I nodded my head and said to myself, "Oh, yeah, I’ve seen this lots of times." No company would admit that it hates its customers, but if the leadership looks deep into their hearts they may recognize the behavior that Cynthia mentions.

And for marketers this is a big concern. Because marketers, more and more these days, need to listen to and act on customer feedback. People don’t listen to those they hate. They disregard, dismiss or rationalize their statements. Even when marketing believes in its customers, if the organization’s culture is a customer-hating one, the messages won’t get acted on. [It may go without saying that customer-hating companies will be punished first in a difficult economic environment.]

So, if you’re instituting a voice of the customer program, or if you’ve already got one, answer these questions first: do I think my customers have something valuable to say? Will I listen to it and try to act on it?

Because if you’re one of those companies that holds their customers in contempt, asking them what they think won’t do you any good.

[By way of equal time, I should probably refer to this earlier post where I talked about companies who are hated by their customers.]

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