By Roy Barnes, Bob Kelleher

Listen up! Listening is important. These days, customers expect organizations — including yours — to act and communicate like people (and nice people at that). They expect to conduct conversations with you and for you to hang on their every word. That means you must watch and listen in on what’s happening at all your touchpoints.

In addition, you must “listen” by asking your customers lots of questions and paying very close attention to their answers. The best way to achieve this is to conduct short, highly targeted surveys. (One or two questions only.)

Smart organizations make it a point to constantly gather this type of feedback from customers and really take that feedback to heart. That’s great! Unfortunately, however, too often companies conduct these surveys so infrequently that the process is completely ineffective.

You may think that conducting the occasional survey is better than doing nothing, but it isn’t. It’s worse. Here’s why: Suppose your customer experiences a failure in customer service in February, but you don’t conduct your annual survey until November.

That means you’ve given the customer eight months to find another supplier to meet her needs. Then, after that eight months, you’ve reminded her all over again how disappointed in you she was back in February. Not good!

Conducting the occasional customer satisfaction survey is like asking your husband, wife, or partner how the relationship is going only once every few years. No relationship is going to withstand that low a level of feedback, care, and response! Heck, even the Mars Rover gets more communication that that! Imagine if it didn’t:

“Uh, Houston, we have a problem . . . ”

. . . silence . . .

. . . six more months of silence . . .

Then, at last, crackling through the quiet of space: “Thank you for taking our annual satisfaction survey. On a scale of 5 to 1, with 5 being ‘out of this world’ and 1 being ‘not so much,’ please rate your overall satisfaction with Houston Control.”

Ridiculous, right? But this pokey survey mentality happens all the time.

So, what should you do? Follow these steps:

  1. Perform a quick inventory of every customer survey that your company is currently fielding.

  2. Start reading the survey responses — particularly any written comments that customers have shared with you.

    Written comments are gold.

  3. Figure out how you’re going to respond to those customers who complained or who requested that you follow up with them.

    When you first start this work, you may very likely find months-old surveys that contain comments and complaints that were never addressed.

  4. Call those customers, apologize profusely (and mean it! — don’t just give them the textbook apology), listen to their concerns, and, if possible, fix their problems.

  5. Take a hard look at your organization to make sure the problems those customers experienced aren’t still happening to others.

Listen and follow up. Listen and follow up. Listen and follow up. That’s your new mantra.