shutterstock_159649952.jpgThere are many actions we associate with the customer experience. We can engage, respond, deliver — but nothing is as important as listening.

Last week I presented at the LavaCon Conference on Digital Media and Content Strategies about why content marketing strategies need a strong listening culture. But I'm not the only one pushing for better, smarter listening initiatives.

The Importance of Listening

Recently, Annie Murphy Paul author of the upcoming book, How to Be Brilliant, wrote about the importance of listening with intention. According to Paul there are various listening strategies we can employ with the aim of improving how we learn about those with whom we're engaging. Strategies include setting listening goals, maintaining focus, and evaluating our comprehension of what is heard. Such practices have been known to help students learn other languages better than traditional techniques, so you can only imagine its impact on conversations within one's native language. 

But it's more than that. When you're listening, you're not talking -- you're watching. Paul writes: 

"Observation accelerates the learning process because our brains are able to map others’ actions onto our own mental representations, making them more detailed and more accurate."

If, as marketers, we're able to observe the actions of our customers by listening more actively, there's a lot more we could learn about our customers. 

Slow Down, and Listen

Sure, we monitor social media for keywords and buzzwords, but what does that really tell us? While semantic technologies have improved to provide context to these mentions, how much time do we really spend tuned into to what our customers are talking about when they're not talking about us?

Furthermore, how much time do we spend listening to others in our departments or within our company? Sharing knowledge is only as effective as what you do with it -- but knowledge comes in many forms, so it's essential we're listening to what people are saying (or not saying) as much as we're reading, skimming and gleaning the written word. 

In a recent article, Max Stossel reminds us that: 

"Social listening should be thought of as an extension of customer service. Even if these customers aren't talking directly to you, they are talking, and talking in a place where it's culturally acceptable for you to join the conversation."

Of course, there will be those that argue that listening is only as good as what you do with that information. I couldn't agree more. Listening should be regarded the same as any tool in a marketer's toolbox, but it must also be regarded as a skill that can be improved upon. Just as we regularly update software and upgrade information systems, the marketers' commitment to listening should be as steadfast (or even more so, considering many are still using SharePoint 2007).  

While listening may be a basic sense, many of us take it for granted. We haven't taken the time to hone our listening skills. To listen effectively, we must slow down, stop multitasking and focus. Yet, in a world as fast-pace as this one, where our news feeds flow faster than a firehose, it's hard to make the case for slowing down. So instead, many of us are making the case for listening. Just as companies have designated time for employees to collaborate, incorporating time to listen and observe others may be close behind.

image credit: Shutterstock / Cartoonresource