Vincent Clarke

Build Customer Relationships with Active Listening

By: Vincent Clarke | June 25, 2013 | 

can telephonesAs consumers, we are the perfect marketers.

We know exactly how brands we trust should improve their products or approach their customer service.

We have a ton of suggestions – and if only they were fulfilled – we’d fall in love with these brands all over again.

So why is it, when it comes to our own companies and marketing strategies, the last thing we do is listen to our customers?

Everything is about telling the customer what they want, and showing them how our products can help them. It’s about convincing consumers to pay premium prices, and explaining why they need our services and extra features.

There’s nothing wrong with education or brand building.

That being said, marketers need to spend to either change their product to better meet the customer’s needs, or work on their pitch to better reflect how their product meets the customer’s actual needs.

Let’s look at a couple of ways you can work to build customer relationships by listening to your audience, and how you can use this information to improve your product or your pitch.

Learn the Vernacular for Your Products 

Your audience may refer to your products in an entirely different way than what you intended. For example, back in early 2012 and even late 2011, the buzz for the new iPhone had already caught on. Without even knowing what the product would be called, people referred to it as the iPhone 5.

This made sense sequentially because the previous four iPhone models followed the pattern of 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S. However Apple could have opted to call it the iPhone 6 instead. This would follow with the iOS 6 update they were about to release, as well.

Or, like the most recent iPad model at the time, they could have simply called it “the new iPhone” or something to that effect. However the buzz was already on everything iPhone 5. It was very important they listened to customer vernacular, and used it in their own product naming.

Now this doesn’t mean that you have to go through an entire rebranding process if your customers refer to an already existing product by another term. But it is important to understand these colloquial terms to better comprehend, and market to, your audience.

Produce Continuous Conversations

Social conversations are a continuous, on-going activity. The more you interact with a customer, the more rewards you’ll receive.  Back in 2010, Social Media Today participated in a case study with Stride Gum. Their original goal was to talk about how even a gum company had an active social community behind them.

Unfortunately, when they actually sat down to make a video discussing it, they discovered their go-to site had no like buttons, and was cluttered with advertisements and games unrelated to building a community of followers.

The writer behind that case study, Pam Moore, released an honest video talking about the experience she had. Although she was a big fan of the brand and didn’t exactly want to put them down, she was honest about her doubts and expressed them as sincerely as possible.

Within 24 hours, Stride contacted her about the video and expressed their gratitude for sharing her observations.

Develop Your Communications Lines

You have to recognize and work on developing all your available lines of communication: The call center, social media platforms, email, and any other feedback loops crucial to effective listening, identifying influencers, and successful marketing.

For example, a recent post on Waxing UnLyrical discovered Manwich, the popular ingredient for Sloppy Joes, had quite the social media buzz on Twitter. This type of platform is not only good for building a socially active community, but also for gathering data about your consumer base.

A quick search for “Manwich” or “Sloppy Joe” produced thousands of results and tons of data. People shared information on Twitter such as “it’s a South Park and Manwich kind of night” or talked about how their kids really wanted the product for dinner.

The only problem is Manwich wouldn’t know because they don’t have a Twitter account!

Active listening in marketing is also about opening up the lines of communication between you and your customers. Have ways to gather this data and use it to further your own marketing strategies.

Participate in Client Co-Creation 

We’re living in a time where consumers are the driving force behind creation or co-creation of content and media. Try to run campaigns where your customers and fans become an active part of the decision process. In this way, your audience will feel like a part of the creation of a new product, and will show loyalty to it as a result. Most importantly, you’re listening to what the customers really want instead of doing what you think they want.

Frito Lay is just finishing up their Do Us a Flavor campaign where customers can submit their best ideas for a potato chip flavor, and then fans can vote for their favorites. Whoever gets the most votes officially becomes the next new Lays chip flavor.

This was a brilliant way to not only get your community involved with your company, but to develop a new product you know your customers will actually buy, because they made it happen.

Build Customer Relationships

Active listening is a crucial component to any successful marketing strategy. It helps build customer relationships, and reveals reams of relevant data for future products. But let’s face it. If listening was so easy, wouldn’t everybody do it? People and companies are very much the same in that they really just want it to be “all about me.”

Becoming a good listener takes time and hard work. If you do it right, though, it might just pay off big time.

About Vincent Clarke

Vincent Clarke is an inbound marketing analyst for USB Memory Direct, specializing in outreach strategy, community relations, and content marketing. His interests include behavioral psychology, communication strategy, and film. Vincent is based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and you can get in touch with him on Twitter @_vhclarke.

  • The saying goes God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason: Listening works in every situation. Some really good examples in here; thank you for the blog post. The only thing I’d caution readers on is in your co-creation section. Unfortunately, there are many people with way too much time on their hands who will create a campaign for some awful flavor that Frito Lay could be stuck with (vomit or poop, for instance). So when you introduce campaigns like that one, make sure your attorneys are involved and the contest rules are very clear. My guess is Frito Lay did that and ruled out any gross or unlikely flavors based on their contest rules.

    • ginidietrich  Great point Gini! There will always be forums and groups of people who take advantage of these situations to prank companies in these types of campaigns so it’s important to be prepared for the worst.

      • Vincent H. Clarke ginidietrich Mmmmmm…..vomit chips!

        • susancellura

          belllindsay Vincent H. Clarke ginidietrich eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!

        • susancellura belllindsay Vincent H. Clarke ginidietrich I second what Susan said Lindsay…

        • susancellura belllindsay Vincent H. Clarke LMAO! As it turns out, *I* would be one of those people to build a campaign like that.

  • Love what Gini said about having two ears and one mouth for a reason. I’m pretty good with listening online, but not the best in person…especially when I am excited about a topic. 
    I agree with you that it listening will pay off and these are really good examples. Although I don’t think poop frito lays would be very appetizing to anyone other than my dog…

    • yvettepistorio Thanks Yvette! Yeah, I think I’ll stick to bbq flavored myself as well lol. But you’re right. Sometimes it can be hard to really listen to your customers when you’re confident and passionate about a new product and its features. But we can’t afford to lose our customer confidence in the process.
      Recently with the new video game console the “Xbox One” Microsoft implemented a ton of new features that they thought would make the gaming experience for their customers a whole lot better. For example, one of the features was that the xbox one had to be online at all times during gameplay. Many people who were abroad or on vacation with limited or no internet access felt that this was a very bad idea, especially if it would interrupt single player games that had nothing to do with internet access anyway. In the process their product became very unpopular and their rival the PlayStation 4 became the ideal choice for gamers.
      So sometimes I think you definitely have to swallow your own pride and confidence for the sake of customer fulfillment. Thanks for the comment!

  • This is one of the places where I don’t understand people saying that social media is useless. Anyone who has ever worked with a major brand knows the cash they used to — and I’m not being facetious or jovial in any way – P O U R into market research and trying to figure out what the customer is thinking. 

    Now we have a medium where the customer TELLS YOU what they think. And most companies take it completely for granted. At bare minimum  listen to what’s being said about your brand, your market, the community that needs your product and may not know it. Great article. 
    Oh, and dont forget about using social media as a non-threatening way to ASK directly what clients or customers are thinking. You can poll them without forcing them to give you their information.

    • Tinu Great point Tinu! It’s always better to come across new information from your customers in a passive, informal way. I remember during President Obama’s 2012 election his PR team sent emails to their subscribers with very down to earth subject lines like “Hey” or “We did it” – stuff that sounded like it came from a real person and not some marketing robot. I think it’s super important that we not only listen to our customers, but build friendly, genuine lines of communication on social media that will invite customer participation and responses.

  • I loved the Frito Lays promotion. It really drew in a lot of feedback and great ideas they can use further down the road. You are right, you need to listen to the customer and be plugged into what they think and how the feel about your product!

  • Pingback: Business Authenticity: What a Klingon Taught this Renaissance Woman – Word Ninja()

  • Pingback: Listening in Life and in PR by @makeaner Spin Sucks()

  • Pingback: Social Listening Gone Wrong: Southwest Polices Tweets by @eleanorpie Spin Sucks()