April 1, 2015

Revolutionary New Strategy: Listening to Customers

Submitted by Kelly Glass

At the end of March, General Motors announced what you could call a new social media and marketing strategy. GM’s radical new approach: listening to people.

Specifically, the storied American automaker came out about the fact that the company has made improvements to its products as a result of listening to questions, comments and desires of its audiences in North America and Europe, along with its fast-growing China segment. Based on driver and car owner voices on social media, GM has retooled seat warmers and steering wheels, as well as made other improvements to products and services.

Woman Listening to Custom to Improve Business

“Sharing content brings consistency to global campaigns and listening to customers on social media allows the automaker to make product changes more quickly,” said MediaPost, a leading social media and marketing news site.

The most important points here for businesses are not so much in the discussion about social media, or whether or not your business uses social media as a marketing tool in the first place. What is fascinating is that big businesses like GM and the world’s largest auto makers are going to great lengths to listen to the individuals that buy their products. This is something that SMBs have always done.

Talk to Your Customers

GM’s recent story illustrates the importance of listening to customers to stay abreast of consumers’ preferences and market trends. But, according to Rick Suttle, who writes about small business for the Houston Chronicle, nailing market trends is only one side of it all. Specifically, Suttle says, business can gain a lot of important insight and data about their products and their service to customers just by asking for feedback.

If surveys aren’t your thing, or don’t fit your business (or your budget), it’s okay to take action by just talking to your customers.

Fast Company points out something else that is important to the act of “asking for feedback”. As J.D. “Jamey” Power IV states in a short tale of how his father built J.D. Power & Associates, one main ingredient in listening to your customers is overcoming the fear of feedback that might be negative. Don’t afraid to ask your customers and partners about their experience in doing business with you. Power hints that it is critical to snuff out any complaints, issues or minor problems before they become bigger threats to your business.

Furthermore, by asking customers for feedback you will likely disarm them and, in turn, help them overcome come their fear of telling you what they want and need most from the relationship.

Don’t Forget Your Employees

Power also says that one of the best ways to improve the processes that make your business fire on all cylinders is to talk to your employees about what is going on.

“Owners and managers need to not only summon the courage to listen to customers but also need to trust their employees' perspectives,” Power writes. “Ask them what they are experiencing — what is working, what is not working, and why.” Power adds that internal feedback bolsters morale within your company — no matter how big or small your operation is — and can be a great way to seek ideas for new opportunities to delight customers in unexpected ways.

Step Back

It may sound elementary, but it takes strength and foresight as a business owner to occasionally remove your marketing and sales cap to ask questions about how you can be better to your customers, your vendors and your employees. By being open and honest, and willing to listen, you will maintain a positive business environment and can be more productive (and likely more profitable) in what you do.

While many SMBs today are focused on traditional business concerns like price points, new products and competing with big players in their market, how you communicate is also something that can set your business apart. Moreover, by promoting open and honest communication, you will always keep a finger on the pulse of your business.


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