two men having a conversation in front of a cafe
PHOTO: Juri Gianfrancesco

Gift giving is one of my superpowers. Nothing makes me happier than to give someone something I know they want or they’ll like. The secret to my gift giving success is simple: I am an active listener. I pay close attention when friends and family tell me what makes them happy, what they wish they had, and the things they like.

The same skills that make me an excellent gift giver have been critically important to creating deep and trusted relationships with our customers. One of the things we are proudest of at our company is the relationships we have with our customers. We got there by spending a lot of time listening. 

I knew when we started that as two women in our 50s, fundraising was going to be hard. As a result, there was little room to make mistakes — we had to get it right. Active listening (and lots of it) ensured we didn’t waste money developing features that customers didn’t want or need.  

Today, nothing makes us happier than to surprise our customers with new features we know they’ll love or need. We are active and pro-active listeners. We schedule regular calls and meetings with our customers for no other reason than to hear about their experience using our product and to hear about the business challenges they are trying to address. We pay close attention when customers tell us what makes them happy, and what they wish they had. We then work hard to deliver features that enhance their experience with our product.


Related Article: Your Customers Are Speaking: Are You Listening?

Don't Let Technology Impede Your Ability to Listen and Engage With Customers

I may sound condescending in preaching the importance of listening, but I’m concerned it is becoming a lost art. We took a customer to lunch not long ago to hear about their experience with our product. We didn’t think it was a big deal, but for our customer, it was such a different vendor experience they actually wrote a blog about it. 

The amount of technology available for use to engage with customers is mind-boggling, and though I am a huge proponent of leveraging technology I’m becoming increasingly worried that that technology applied without consideration of the overall customer experience has the potential to get in the way of listening to, and interacting with, our customers. 

Chatbots

Companies are busy implementing chatbots for customer service and to engage prospects as they visit their websites. Algorithms power many of these chatbots and their designs both mimic and limit actual human interaction. I am not convinced these are the right way to establish a first connection with a prospective customer. Do they really deliver an excellent customer experience? Is it a lost opportunity for active human interaction? 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: We implemented one of the leading automated chat tools on our site and spent two months trying to create an engaging experience. In the end, our customers and prospects told us it was just too annoying. We ended up replacing it with a simple Doorbell link that requires a human response. Doorbell has driven more engagement than our sophisticated chat tool ever did. 

Related Article: A Good Chatbot Is Hard to Find

Pre-Scheduled Social Posts

Pre-scheduled social posts have the potential to create another barrier to interaction. There are several tools available that help companies plan and distribute social posts. These do serve a purpose and we use a number of them. We do, however, think about what we are writing, only plan a week or so in advance to ensure what we are distributing is relevant, insert real-time additions in response to company and industry happenings, and work to engage our social community. Many companies do this successfully. 

However, an emerging class of technology is designed to take the human out of social posting. With these platforms, you feed the platform one large piece of content and its algorithms chunk it up into a variety of social posts and then automates the distribution. If the goal of social media is to engage with our customer community, it’s hard to see how completely automating this process serves that purpose. It seems as if it's just building another impenetrable barrier between the customer and the brand.

Social Listening

Social listening tools can provide valuable insight into customers' perception of your brand. In combination with an engagement strategy, they can be a powerful tool for enhancing customer relationships. But using them on auto-pilot simply to gauge sentiment can lead to a false sense of “everything is good” when in fact, your customers may be exploring new options that offer a bigger suite of features and functionality. If you don’t talk to your customers, how would you know?

Related Article: Real Engagement Trumps Social Media Listening

Customer Journeys

Most companies are working hard to create customer journeys that divide prospects and customers into smaller and smaller segments to create the sense of a personalized brand experience. The platforms that support this effort are terrific. However, if the goal is to automate the entire customer journey and deliver “personalized” pre-generated content at each step, you run the risk of never connecting live with your customers and prospects and never knowing that one small feature enhancement could completely transform their experience with your brand. 

There's No Substitute for a Real Conversation 

Technology and automation are wonderful things, but anyone using them to automate every part of the customer experience should proceed with caution. Listening to and authentically engaging with customers is the path to long term success. Without live interaction you are effectively operating blind. The best technology can’t surpass the value of a real conversation.

So if you haven’t talked to a customer in the last week, now’s the time to pick up the phone!