Listening, really listening, is hard. We’re often too preoccupied by our own life situations to devote our full attention to what our spouses, family members, friends, and co-workers have to say, but failing to listen is detrimental to any relationship.

Persistent listening is a frequently neglected skill, both in business relationships and personal ones, but it’s crucial for mutual understanding and success.

From a business standpoint, persistent listening is empathetically listening to consumers in order to learn about them, understand their sentiments and values, and put that knowledge to productive use.

Listening to Learn from Your Customers

Many companies have a Voice of Customer program in place to foster listening to consumers, but they aren’t really learning anything from their efforts. Companies aren’t paying attention to what customers are actually saying and, instead, are just waiting for a chance to pick up their megaphones and interrupt with brand messaging.

This isn’t real listening; it’s politely feigning listening while waiting for a chance to talk. Everyone  knows a person like this — someone who will sit and listen to you talk but is too busy waiting for the opportunity to add his  two cents to really absorb what you’re saying.

The concept of listening to customers to learn is novel to most organizations, and although more brands are on social media than ever before, there is a deep chasm in the relationship between companies and their consumers. Consumers want their concerns to be heard and addressed by the companies they do business with. Unfortunately, studies show that consumers don’t feel businesses adequately engage with them in this way.

The Consequences of Ignoring Your Customers

A recent study on consumers’ expectations of customer service on social media indicated that companies fail to adequately engage their customers. The study found that: 

  • 32.5 percent of respondents who used social media to communicate with companies were either ignored or neglected.
  • Of those who were ignored, 45 percent felt angry, and 27 percent said they would be “very angry” and wouldn’t do business with that company again.

Furthermore, 49.5 percent stated that if they saw that a company’s Facebook page included complaints and unanswered questions, they would be far less likely to make purchases from that company. Ignoring issues on social media sites doesn’t make them go away; it makes customers unhappy enough to go elsewhere.

The benefits of persistent listening via the social Web don’t stop at resolving customer complaints. When companies are regularly engaged in meaningful dialogues with consumers, they are able to learn what people expect regarding product enhancements and additional service offerings, as well as how they prefer to interact with the company. By understanding what customers value, adaptive companies can utilize this data to create positive customer experiences that exceed people’s expectations.

How Persistent Listening Can Achieve Brand Loyalty

To achieve brand loyalty, a company must combine a superior offering with an excellent customer experience. This type of experience can only be achieved through persistent listening to learn how customers view specific interactions with the company. Customers are much more loyal to companies with which they have the best customer experiences; they’re also more likely to recommend those companies and are much more reluctant to take their business elsewhere.

When implementing a strategy for effective listening, it’s important for companies to keep an open mind about what consumers have to say and be willing to adapt. These six steps will help you make the most of what your customers are telling you:

  1. Develop specific company goals for proactive, persistent listening. These may stem from upper management, but leaders within the company must work to get everyone within the organization onboard and committed to the program.
  1. Invest in robust social media monitoring/listening software. A solid platform to collect data will ensure no customer feedback falls through the cracks.
  1. Combine the data gathered from social media monitoring with customer data from the company’s CRM program.
  1. Use human brainpower to make knowledge-based decisions about the information gathered by social monitoring software. Persistent listening is important, but what you do with the information you gather is what will determine the success of the program.
  1. Initiate dialogues with customers to begin the process that leads to engagement to understand their sentiments, wants, and needs.
  1. Implement comprehensive internal processes that enable this information to be shared throughout the entire organization.

The last step is a crucial and often-neglected part of the process. To get the most out of your persistent listening program, the data acquired from specific customer interactions must be shared across the enterprise in a timely manner.

These insights help identify the departments that need to make improvements, and details from specific interactions help departments discover where and how to improve. When shared across the organization, persistent listening data reveals how to streamline operations and knock down silos for greatly improved cross-departmental workflow and more efficient collaboration.

Today’s online business market is extremely competitive, and companies are constantly looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. While many businesses focus solely on their products, savvy companies understand that providing customers with a great experience is a key source of differentiation that can have a significant impact on their bottom line. Just like in personal relationships, people don’t want a friend who is perfect; they want someone who will really listen, help them with their problems, and make them feel like they aren’t alone.