Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Are you really listening? Using the internet to listen and meet customer needs

I've been reading a fantastic book recommended to me by my DGM, What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.

It discusses 20 habits that hold back successful people and key behavioural changes that can help overcome them.

One behaviour discussed is listening, where Marshall makes the statement,
80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based upon how well we listen. In other words, success or failure is determined before we do anything.
Listening is a regular theme in management and self-help books, however what struck me in this case was that effective and active listening isn't only a key attribute for individual success.

It's also a key factor in organisational success.

Many government agencies spend a great deal of time and money on listening.

We engage in market research, hold community consultation sessions and ask stakeholder groups for input. We consult subject matter experts, implement feedback systems and even share information with other agencies.

Then we attempt to pull all of this data together in meaningful and useful ways to guide policy and service delivery.

Most organisations find listening a difficult and challenging process. Across the private and public sector some organisations shine but most are poor at listening.

If we're all spending so much money on it, why is this so?

Possibly because the process of listening is never perfect. It can involve the wrong groups, or fail to share information widely enough.

'Listening' may be an activity undertaken periodically, rather than constantly, and by specific groups or individuals, rather than seen as a responsibility for the entire organisation.

When listening the context may not be understood, or organisations may simply fail to accept and absorb what they are hearing because it doesn't match the preconceptions of staff or management.

Some organisations even shy away from listening altogether, as either they fear what they may hear or they believe they already know what their customers want.

I've learnt three key things about organisational listening in my working career.
  1. Customers are telling us more about what they want every time they interact with or talk about us
  2. The more organisations listen the better they become at understanding and meeting customer needs
  3. Listening is a continuous two-way process

Working in the online industry I've only learnt one further thing about listening.
  1. The internet is the most effective and cost-efficient tool for listening ever invented.
The internet is a knowledge capture system as well as a communications medium.

It allows individuals and organisations to share information and converse with larger and more diverse groups on an ongoing basis at extremely low cost.

It can capture every aspect of these interactions, removing the ambiguity of memory or creative interpretation (although still allowing filtering through preconceptions).

It can also capture behaviours - not simply what people say, but observing what they do, how they interact with information and services.

Most organisations do not yet understand this and make limited use of the information flowing through their web servers, or reachable via search engines and social networks.

However, those that understand it gain enormous benefits.

I've been given many reasons as to why organisations do not use the internet to listen (my response is in the brackets);
  • Not everyone is online (not everyone attends focus groups either!)
  • Our existing systems work fine (how can you know this if you're not listening?)
  • The internet is new and untried (the people using it are your existing customers)
  • We don't have the expertise (employ someone - as is done for market research)
  • We don't have the budget for it (you don't need a budget)
  • Our IT team won't let us (you don't need IT involved)
  • We don't like to be first mover (you're not)
  • It's too hard (it gets easier)
  • We're scared about what people may say (they're already saying it - go listen)
  • No-one will take us seriously (is your goal to improve customer service or protect egos)
  • We already have a website (creating a radio ad doesn't make you an expert at talkback)
I'd love to hear any additional reasons you've been given for not using the internet in this way.

I will be blogging later in the week on ways in which organisations can use the internet to listen.

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