The Art of Listening to Your Customers - Cover

The Art of Listening to Your Customers

When you reach out to a customer, do you ever wonder in your heart of hearts whether you are just being nice? Do you ever wonder whether you are actually taking a hit on your bottom line in order to invest in a better experience for your customer?

Recently, I was talking with the senior leadership team of one of the largest healthcare IT firms in the industry, and that team had a similar question. We shared with the firm one statistically significant result we had learned from thousands of decision insight surveys: even when compared to firms that had the same KLAS score, firms that had a higher score for executive involvement tended to sell better and hold on to customers at a higher rate.

So basically, karma is a true principle. When you are nice to your customer, that good turn will come back to you.

Your question may be, “How do I build that relationship?”

One important answer is simply to listen.

Talking Versus Listening

Several years ago, we met with a vendor executive. That company’s ratings for executive involvement were low. We told the executive that he didn’t have the relationship he needed to have with his customers.

Over the following year, that executive decided to fly around the country and meet with nearly every single customer. That meant he was on a plane about 45 out of the 52 weeks in the year.

The next year, we met with that executive. We reported that the scores for executive involvement had actually gone down. Yes, you read that right.

So what happened?

We learned from the vendor’s customers that the executive had mainly done presentations. He hadn’t truly listened and engaged with his clients.

To his credit, the executive took our feedback. He realized he had made a mistake and shifted his customer relationships pretty significantly. The company started doing better. He learned a painful but important lesson: vendor-customer relationships are not just about time; they are about whether more time is spent talking or listening.

The Business of Meeting Customer Needs

When you meet with a customer, do you have a notepad filled with things you are going to say? Or do you have a list of questions you want to ask?

If your answer is the latter, be ready to let your guard down. You may hear things you have never heard before. And because you are smart, you will be able to use that feedback to make some critical changes. Your company will be much more competitive. You might even launch new product lines. You are in the business of meeting customer needs, and it turns out that they know their needs better than anybody else does.

Leaders Who Listen

Over the years, I have presented findings at nearly 100 different vendor organizations. This has given me the opportunity to closely observe the type of leaders that customers say listen to them. I have found an interesting correlation between those who listen to their customers and those who listen in the board room.

When a challenge is presented, people often theorize about the reasons for the challenge. The best leaders tend to be concise and constructively self-critical. They may be the ones to say, “Guys, this issue is a lot bigger than we think.” These executives believe that their employees are trying their best. But they also believe that they are nowhere near their full potential. In other words, they are humble.

One definition of the word humility is teachability. At KLAS, humility is one of our core company values because it is irreplaceable. A company culture of listening simply cannot exist without a culture of humility. And that starts at the top.

Leaders who listen and respond to customers are also concerned with helping their employees listen and respond to customers. The litmus test of a good account manager is one who is empowered to make decisions that will benefit their customers. The account manager may have the power to determine when to waive a fee, for instance, or to delay an upgrade at the customer’s behest. That is a critical piece of creating a listening ecosystem.

KLAS is Here to Help

Shifting an entire company to one that listens to their customers may seem like an overwhelming task. KLAS is here to help. In fact, I might sum up the entire mission of KLAS as helping vendors listen to their customers. If we are doing our job right, you are going to feel like there is another C-level position at your board meetings, and that is the voice of the customer.

What do we do to make that happen? First, we collect customer feedback. All of that feedback is anonymous so that no extra frosting gets in the way. We also work really hard to make sure that we are speaking to the right people. Once we have collected that information, we feel a great responsibility to share that information with you. If you are ready for a change, give us a call.

Photo credit: Elnur, Adobe Stock