Do your customers believe you really understand their needs? Is the voice of the customer at the heart of your decision-making process? How can you tell? More importantly, how can they tell?

Listen-And-LearnBeing customer centric – listening to your customer and earning his loyalty – is so in vogue now. These terms are frequently bantered about, sometimes diluting the meaning in order to appear to have a focus on the customer. Here’s the biggest problem with “phoning in” customer centricity – the customer can tell.

To truly be “customer centric,” the voice of your customer must be kept in clear focus within your organization. This requires an understanding of what is most important to your customer, and how best to deliver it. Beyond that basic understanding, the voice of the customer must be heard throughout your entire organization – not just those departments who interact directly with customers on a regular basis.

Customers are savvy and can tell if you really heard them. How many times have you answered a survey, only to wonder if it was returned to a black hole where feedback goes to die? Are you doing the same thing to your customers? What if instead you got a call within minutes of your survey response, thanking you for helping the company improve its product or service? If you think that kind of responsiveness is too expensive to achieve, think again.

Real-time feedback is one of the most effective tools marketers have in their arsenal, and it is most effective when customers recognize it’s coming from a real person. Thanks to digital tools, providing this feedback is surprisingly easy. Here are some tips you can use to improve the human side of gathering insights:

If you take the time to ask, take the time to acknowledge. If your entire organization is engaged in listening to the voice of the customer, there should be a process in place to route all feedback to a specific, real person who is tasked with responding within a reasonable time frame (usually no more than 24 hours). It’s also surprising how many companies don’t acknowledge feedback with a genuine, immediate email back to the customer to thank them.
Take your focus groups online. Focus groups are definitely the good, the bad and ugly of market research. You get honest, real-time qualitative feedback (good), but they are quite time consuming and expensive (bad) and often you only get people who have a lot of time on their hands (which can be ugly). By migrating your qualitative research activities to online discussion forums, your customers and prospects can engage in a moderated, asynchronous discussion that yields remarkable insights. It is ideal for time-starved customers, and can be more efficient than the traditional method in terms of time and cost for budget-minded CMOs.
Report back to your customer. If you’ve taken the time to ask your customers for their opinion and you’ve used that feedback to innovate, it is important to go back to the customers to let them know how you’ve changed, thanks to their input. This is often one of the biggest lost opportunities in building customer relationships – and with tools like your website, social media and email, it is extremely cost-effective to achieve.

To create a truly customer-centric organization, the customer must become the co-creator of her experience with the brand, rather than you telling her what’s in her best interest.

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