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How listening to the voice of the customer benefits businesses

Karen Mangia's book, 'Listen Up! How to Tune In to Customers and Turn Down the Noise' talks about the importance of listening to the voice of the customer in the business world.

When the pandemic hit, it caused a stir in businesses -- forcing people to work from home and disrupting supply chains. But it also spurred organizations to want to better connect with customers.

Businesses can connect with customers by collecting timely, actionable customer feedback -- hearing the actual voice of the customer. If businesses don't know what a customer is saying about them, they won't know how to improve a product or service, and they won't know what they're doing right.

Customers become more than statistics -- real people that businesses can relate to -- when organizations hear the voice of the customer, said Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights at Salesforce and author of Listen Up! How to Tune In to Customers and Turn Down the Noise.

Mangia works with Salesforce customers to understand challenges they are trying to solve and how Salesforce can help them. The feedback her team receives from customers then influences product development and go-to-market strategy for Salesforce. Mangia also helps Salesforce clients develop their customer listening, advocacy and success programs. Prior to that, she worked at Cisco for 11 years in sales, customer experience and partner experience roles.

Here, Mangia discusses the importance of listening to the voice of the customer and collecting actionable feedback.

Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Listen Up! How to Tune in to Customers and Turn Down the Noise

Download a PDF excerpt of the book.

Your book mentions that many businesses use Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a way to see how customers perceive them. Why is this a bad idea?

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Listen Up! How to
Tune In to Customers
and Turn Down the
Noise
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Karen Mangia: A single signal is effectively false. The challenge with NPS is that many people try to use the score that results from it -- and maybe the comments and sentiment that people expressed -- as the measure of the health of their relationship with customers. The reality is that's the same as reporting on the health of a business financially based on revenues only versus looking at the whole picture.

NPS can be a great starting point to dive deeper and ask more questions, but as a standalone metric, it does not give you what you need to really answer the two fundamental questions that every business leader needs to know: When you win with your customers, why do you win? And, when you lose, why do you lose to the degree that you could repeat those results?

What questions should businesses ask customers instead?

Karen MangiaKaren Mangia

Mangia: Just because a customer indicates to you that they're likely to recommend you does not mean they actually do. A better question is the Social Promoter Score question, which is, 'Did you recommend us and to whom?' and then track whether or not that recommendation or referral is becoming net new opportunity and pipeline for your company.

Another really critical question to ask right now is the 'genius question,' as I refer to it in the book. The question is: 'How could we make this -- processes, contracts, products -- easier for you?' The reason I referred to that as the genius question is because it invites your customers to come on a journey with you to make some incremental improvements, a little bit at a time. And, for all of us, we resonate with being able to see, experience and feel progress.

The other questions that I would advocate for I call the 'catalyst questions.' They're designed to have you ask customers that are dealing with disruption, which right now happens to be essentially everybody. The three catalyst questions that every company can ask customers when they're dealing with disruption are: 'How can I help right now?' 'What does success look like for you on the other side of this?' and 'How can we build your return to growth plan together?'

Tapping in to unhappy customers is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, especially right now.
Karen Mangia

What are some better tools that businesses can use to listen to their customers?

Mangia: Tapping in to unhappy customers is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, especially right now. You can learn from your unhappy customers, a little at a time and very quickly. They also tend to be really candid with you. They've already left, so they're usually willing to tell you why.

Another tool that businesses can use is tapping in to the goodness of those recorded customer service calls. There's a moment there where you're getting to hear the customer in their state of pain, but they're also surfacing to you new opportunities to innovate, to make things easier and to be proactive in solving problems. That is coming in constantly, and it's coming in all day long. So, it's just a very quick and actionable taste of the pulse of your customers.

How does a business train its employees to listen to customers?

Mangia: There are a number of ways, but it starts with building in a cadence that makes it easy for everyone in your organization to hear from your customers directly -- even if they're not in a customer-facing role. That can be as simple as including a couple of customers each time in your town halls.

People also need a centralized place they can go to easily hear the voice of the customer, and there's a number of possibilities there. One option is a listening booth, where you can go to a central portal and pick any topic -- perhaps a product, process or innovation ideas. There, you can click on a little audio recording, which will give you a series of snippets of hearing from the voice of the customer. This can also be done in a newsletter.

What does Salesforce do to listen to its customers?

Mangia: We do this in a variety of ways. We have a series of customer advisory boards, customers councils and customer executive roundtables. From any one of those groups, we have a specific place where you can go to read that information. But it also helps us connect our customers with each other and expand their networks.

We also run a Trailblazer series, where we feature both individuals and organizations doing really innovative things with us. It's a whole marketing campaign, it's announced internally and it goes on our website. We have a customer on almost every one of our company all-hands meeting, sharing some way that they're accessing growth or solving a problem with Salesforce. Then, we build sales enablement tools out of this so people can actually use those stories and understand not only the problem the customer is trying to solve, but the results that they got in very measurable terms.

And there are some surveys, such as ones sent after you contact technical support, where we're measuring Customer Effort Scores. We also [measure] Net Adoption Scores, as opposed to Net Promoter Scores, which is kind of a combination of Net Promoter Score-type questions along with your product adoption. That tells us a lot about how we're doing together, especially in the technology world.

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