How businesses can ‘listen’ to customers in the social media age

Long gone are the days of printing out tweets.
Long gone are the days of printing out tweets.
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By Frank Eliason

Citibank Senior Vice President of Social Media; “most famous customer service manager in the U.S., possibly the world” | @FrankEliason | frankeliason.com

Businesses like to send messages to their customers stating they listen, yet evidence of such care is scarce. We see surveys galore from virtually every large business we deal with, but these surveys often look at overall numbers and pay  very little attention to the verbatim feedback.

Social media customer service presents clear examples of how businesses struggle to listen. How often are they repeatedly addressing identical problems? This lack of action sends the same message as when companies neglect to respond to survey comments.

Years ago, I was interviewing for my first management role in the financial services industry. The manager asked me what I thought the most important attribute of a leader was. I did not hesitate and said, “listening.” In my view a leader will never have all the knowledge they need to make decisions. The key is listening to those in the know; including employees, business leaders, customers, and regulators. In my view, information is power, but not in the way many see it. I do not need to hold all the information, but I do need to listen to all the information I have around me.

The best people in the service operations are also the best listeners. They deal with upset customers every day, and sometimes call after call. They are not focusing on the cursing or yelling, but instead they go deeper to understand the reason for the frustration and strive to find a solution within their own toolbox. These skills are extremely relevant throughout an organization.

As I look at the various organizational structures, I have found marketing and communication departments do an amazing job at telling the story of their successes. This of course is probably due to marketers’ ability to effectively tell the story of the brand. Imagine marketing’s art of storytelling connected to the art of listening from the customer operations department– that would be a powerful, game changing, combination. This would be a way to lead the story of the brand instead of trying to simply tell one.

Listening is so much more than words; but with the right people working together it can be made part of the DNA of any organization!

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