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09/21/2009 Listening Means More Than Social Media

Social media puts a lot of emphasis on listening. The first advice for those jumping into social media is to listen to what customers say about your company. It's funny, but companies listen all the time, whether they know it or not. Or rather, they hear, but they don't listen. While listening in social media is a good thing, companies need to get better to its customers and prospects as part of its regular business as well.

I was struck by how Alice.com allowed you to list how long a product lasts in your household. Their idea is to offer service or reminders when they see that it's time for you to reorder something. Collecting this data isn't new; using it is. Alice.com listens to what its customers do.

It reminded me of the time I was pitching a major grocery chain in the northeast many years ago. My idea was similar to what Alice.com does now. Since the chain used customer cards, they had a rich, thorough picture of everyone's shopping habits. How about using that to make life easier for your customers? I suggested. No way, they said, we wouldn't dare use that information. Crazy as it sounds they heard what customers did, and perhaps they used it to manage the stock in its stores. But they refused to use it to personalize the experience.

Smaller companies do this too. They know who its customers are and who its prospects are. When it comes time to market, these companies usually create one campaign - one size fits all. But customers don't want companies to treat them the same. How about adjusting your campaigns to segment each group? With email and online advertising, creating segmented creative is easy (although you still have to think of different sets of content). How about creating different offers for heavy buyers and light buyers? Or separate connections for happy customers and less happy customers? Or offers to people who've inquired but never bought?

The reality is that most business these days collect lots of information about its customers but most rarely use the data for any type of individualized marketing. It's too bad; we like it when you pay attention to us.

Listening involves not only hearing what customers say, but also acting on what you hear in some way. Listening is interactive since it involves two moving parts. Hearing is passive; you can take in lots of information, but it never moves past your eardrums.

Companies hear a lot, every day. It's time they use listening skills inside the existing business. Companies don't need new social media programs or Facebook profiles to make this happen. They just need to pay attention.

If the data feels overwhelming, start small. I'm sure you'll be surprised at what happens.


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