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06/27/2012 Listening has never been easier. So why don’t we do it?

I was at a meeting a while back when someone exclaimed “I think we’re doing great. Why can’t everyone see that?”

It’s a common enough sentiment. You can hear that on the client side or on the agency side. It’s what happens when people become so highly focused on their own work that they lose any outside perspective. At work we concentrate on getting our work done, perfecting our internal systems, navigating through internal politics and improving our products. Most all of that is within our control, or at least it feels like it is.

The challenge is that most other people can’t see you doing that because they’re either not that interested or because they’re focused on their own needs. But if what you’re “doing” is supposed to meet the needs of other people, you may be in trouble. One thing that continues to astound me is the lack of interest or desire in actually listening to what your audience needs and says.

Listening has never been easier than it is today. Social media has turned into a powerful tool to connect with and listen to people. The brands that stop overly obsessing about selling stuff on Facebook and use the channels to listen and to build stronger connections to their customers end up doing better. We’re (thankfully) moving past straight-up focus groups and market research as a way of gathering intelligence and moving toward design-thinking and ethnographic collaborations with customers instead.

The super power of social is that people love receiving attention and love knowing that someone is listening to them. That’s a human super power too. It doesn’t take much for companies to take some time and listen to their clients or customers; to ask them what matters to them; to inquire how you’re doing serving them. 

Why don’t we listen more? Probably because we’re afraid of hearing bad news. “I think we’re doing great” might be code for “I don’t want to hear what I’m doing wrong.” Face it; we’re all people here, with our thin skins and sensitive egos.

Rather than desensitizing yourself, cloak yourself in “listening” disguise. Pretend you’re putting on a lab coat and geeky glasses, or a pith helmet and jungle boots. Pretend you’re a scientist or an ethnographer out on a mission. Whatever you hear and see, you probably won’t take it personally.

Here’s what I’ll guarantee: Even if after asking and listening you don’t hear anything earthshattering or breathtaking, you will hear enough from customers that will cause you to rethink at least a few of the things you’re doing in your normal, day-to-day work. Those things might help you improve a service or product, or might allow you to improve the way your company deals with customers.

Listening changes people. It changes the person telling and it changes the person hearing. After listening you won’t have to “think” you’re doing great, you’ll know.


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