Listening to the loud people

Of course you should listen to your customers.

But which ones?

Should you listen to the loud ones, the ones who call the sports radio stations to complain about the pitching, the ones who post websites about your lousy service, the ones who organize nationwide boycotts? Should you listen to the angry ones, the ones with a limited vocabulary (heavy on profanity, short on spelling) who know how to use email and aren’t afraid to use it?

Or, should you listen to the customers that are the most profitable, the most loyal or the most likely to spread word of mouth among the people you want to become your customers?

Here are three common listening mistakes:

  1. Believing that your customers are monolithic, that they all want the same thing.
  2. Believing that loud customers speak for all customers.
  3. Worrying that if you don’t satisfy short-term, loudly articulated needs, you will fail.

There’s an art here, it’s not a science. I’d focus on a few tactics:

  • When someone is in pain, recognize it and address it if you can.
  • You decide, not your customers, where you want to go. Lead, don’t follow.
  • Amplify the voices of the people you care about, those with the most value to you in the long run. Give them a platform and make it easier for them to speak to you and the rest of the market.

And here’s one thing I’d do on a regular basis: Get a video camera or perhaps a copy machine and collect comments and feedback from the people who matter most to your business. Then show those comments to the boss and to your staff and to other customers. Do it regularly. The feedback you expose is the feedback you’ll take to heart.