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Listening is the best way for a company to accurately learn how its customers think and feel. Source: Google Images

It’s important for a company to want to be in touch with what its customers think, and more importantly, how they feel. Collecting customer data is a one way for companies to get to know their customers, but it’s important to realize that data can often be misleading. The best way for a company to truly learn know how its customers feel and avoid misleading data is simply to listen to what they have to say.

One of the main ways companies today collect customer data is through surveys. Customers are constantly bombarded with many kinds of surveys, often after every touch point with a brand. One possible explanation for the growing popularity of survey use amongst companies is also the growing popularity of Net Promoter Score (NPS), according to a recent Forbes article. NPS is a “key measure of overall perception of your brand” and “ a leading indicator from growth,” according to Net Promoter Network. To determine its NPS, companies survey customers on how likely they are to recommend the brand to a friend, on a scale of 0 to 10. Customers’ responses are then weighed to determine the net promoter score. The NPS places the brand on a spectrum from “detractor” to “promoter”. This score allows brands to compare themselves to one another and to other top-performing brands. In order to track its score accurately, a company must survey its customers frequently.

Considering how often the average consumer encounters surveys, they tend to respond only when they have free time. It’s likely, then, that large portions of regular survey responders are “outlier customers”, according to the Forbes article. This might include older customers who have more free time, or dissatisfied customers with a grievance to air. Busy Millennials and other groups of customers, then, could be generally underrepresented by survey results. While this data could still be useful for identifying issues with a brand, it might not provide a company with accurate insight on customer loyalty or what its customers think.

Big companies with the necessary resources might be able to limit the use of bad data by using statistical tools and hiring professionals to collect and analyze the data. However, small companies often do not have the resources necessary to conduct such skilled analyses on survey data, which leaves them vulnerable to misleading results.

Generally, when a customer wants to be a heard, they want to speak to a person directly, rather than answer prompted questions. However, many companies today require customers to fill out forms or sit through a series of robotic prompts before – if they’re lucky – they can reach a real person that will listen to them. Often, all it takes for a company to satisfy a customer and learn how they feel is having someone who will listen. In this area, it’s the small companies with smaller customer bases that have the advantage, as they are able to dedicate more time and attention to each customer. As the Forbes article suggests, while old-fashioned listening is not the easiest or most efficient way for companies to learn what their customers think and feel, it can’t, and shouldn’t, be replaced by surveys.

From a marketing management perspective, here are some questions to consider:

  • Why might a company choose to use surveys, rather than direct interaction to determine what its customers think and feel?
  • What are the pros and cons of listening to customers directly, rather than simply surveying them?
  • Research and identify a company that relies primarily on listening to its customers, and another that relies primarily on the use of surveys. How do their customer satisfaction compare?