The Role of Radical Listening in the Age of the Customer


Today’s empowered customer has obliterated traditional marketing and sales strategies. We’re long past the Mad Men era when marketing created the message and everyone else consumed it. It was a push model then—here’s what we want you to know and to buy. Today, it’s all about the experience from the customer’s viewpoint.

Customers educate themselves. If you’re present in the locations where they look, they’ll do self-discovery with thought leadership and edutaining content that you have a hand in delivering. If you hit the mark, you’ll earn the right to further conversation. That dialogue might start in digital and include sharing more content. By acting as a good conversation partner, you’ll increase your odds of a shot at having your team members engage more directly.

A Pitch Call Gone Wrong

As I was writing this blog, I took a random pitch call. I was curious to find out if the caller got the basic principles of making it about my business challenges to grab my attention. Spoiler alert: nope!

 “Hi, it’s Eric and we do blah, blah, blah. We are in the customer experience space and our technology does blah blah blah. When can I schedule a call to tell you more?”

Oops! It was all about Eric and his company’s stuff. Why would I spend more time being talked at about their bits and bytes? Eric could’ve read up on our company, leaders, and current business efforts, and then used that information to grab my attention. But no. What a missed opportunity!

There are thousands of blogs out there counseling B2B brands and their sales teams to avoid this type of generic sales approach. So why does it still happen?

It’s Time to Embrace Radical Listening

Companies fail to connect with current and prospective customers because we can’t stop selling the moment we start a conversation. Instead, we need to embrace a new concept: Radical Listening.

What is Radical Listening? It’s an evolution of the need to embrace an outside-in view of your business. We all need to make it a business habit to really listen to customers and employees, with both structured input via surveys and unstructured listening in the moment.

People want to be heard. They want their experience to matter. And, they want to see that we care enough to act on the experience patterns that need to change. This is where the structured data can have a real impact. After all, we can’t do everything everyone wants us to do. We have to find the most important, most poignant, and smartest things we can deploy to uplift both the customer and employee experience.

Amplify the Voice of the Customer Program

Across B2B industries, many have embraced the value of doing customer surveys and measuring loyalty. Radical Listening starts with having a commitment to your company to regularly listen to your customers.

Let’s face it. It takes executive and organizational commitment to consistently get customer feedback. But the more insights you get from the stories your customers share with you, the more successful you’ll be at developing relevant solution offers and delivering a genuinely superior customer experience.

Just be sure to ask the hard questions and face the input with eyes wide open:

  • How is your overall satisfaction with us?
  • How would you rate us on ease of doing business?
  • How did we do on [XYZ, (your purchase, your order, your service request, etc.) which triggered the survey]

You get extra brownie points if you offer customers a way to give you unstructured comments. If you do, you can mine the “verbatim” input for sentiment. Radical Listening starts with finding out where you stand—both generally, as with customers’ willingness to recommend you, and specifically, through knowing what parts of the CX are good, consistent or in need of TLC.

Arm Your Executive Team with Reasons to Invest in CX

The theory is that your happiest customers trust you more. If they trust you more, they’ll spend more with you, or at least say good things about you.

Work with your finance team to get a view of revenue from your most loyal and happy customers versus less satisfied accounts based on your Voice of the Customer data.

The No.1 reason to do this? Customers speak to you with their money. Radical Listening includes seeing the spending pattern specifically through the lens of customer loyalty. Where you’ve earned trust and loyalty, you’ve also likely earned a higher portion of their spending.

With a clear financial link between customer loyalty and spend in hand, it’s easy for your executive team to see that CX = revenue growth.

Make Customer Insights Real for Employees

Find a way to link CX findings to the day-to-day performance of your employees.

Employees are the heart and soul of any organization, and are the face of your brand to your customers. They know what’s working—and what’s not working— for customers. And they do their best to execute to the standards we ask them to meet. But are they working to meet what we measure them on rather than what we wish they’d do? Why are those two things misaligned when it comes to driving the right customer experience? Because too often we track inside-out measures to see what people are doing rather outside-in measures to assure good outcomes.

Which leads me back to the story of poor Eric. When Eric got me on the phone, he disgorged a me-me-me pitch and tried to close with an “appointment booking” request. As a B2B marketer, I know this as a classic sales move.

What’s wrong with that? To start with, he violated the “Talk-to-Listen Ratio” to quote Sales Hacker. According to their newly released study, “the average B2B sales rep spends between 65–75 percent of a call talking, leaving only 25–35 percent of the call for listening.” As you might guess, it doesn’t lead to great results.

Moreover, Eric’s company was reportedly in the CX space. Yet he engaged with me in a push fashion that demolished his brand’s credibility in being my partner to help me serve my customers. Why? I’m 99 percent certain his company sets a quota for sales development reps of calls placed / number of appointments booked. They then train their telesales talent to hit those inside-out goals.

If you know why current customers are happy, and what they want – you should be able to connect with new prospects in a similar way. For true success, you can’t just preach it. You have to listen, learn, and translate what customers want into how you incent your talent.

In Eric’s case, what if he was incented to build credibility with high potential prospects by getting me to read an interesting article or third party research piece on his magical fairy dust? The odds of getting me to say yes would have gone up. And, my engagement with content could be tracked in our digital age with some good MarTech in place. Instead, poor Eric was driven to get an appointment booking. Unfortunately for his brand, that 90-second call left an impression on me, all right – a bad one.

The moral of the story? Radical Listening includes pragmatic action. You can’t just listen and circulate reports. You need to help your amazing employees be successful because you’d had the vision and fortitude to apply your learnings to how your people operate every day.

Christine Viera
VP Global Marketing Strategy, Customer Experience & Product Marketing
Level 3 Communications



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