“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey
As communication professionals we apply great creative and strategic rigor to shaping and disseminating our organisation’s key messages. We think extensively about what we’re saying, to who, when, in what context and through what platform. We use strategic communication plans, brand identity statements, channel plans and many other tools to guide and inform us.
But do we apply the same rigor to listening as we do to talking?
A 2014 IBM Institute for Business Value study recorded that 25% of their sample population (18,462 consumers in 12 countries on six continents) displayed a very high propensity for individual recognition and two-way engagement, with notable desires to: connect directly with brands online, seek innovation and share personal data with businesses they know. These consumers, labelled ‘Brand Enthusiasts’, are predominantly young, rising spenders from growth markets around the world, yet they exist in every country, age bracket and income level.
Regardless of the somewhat naff segmentation terminology, the study confirms that when consumers feel listened to, understood and empowered, they are your biggest asset.
Given it’s importance, consumer engagement shouldn’t just be part of a stand-alone project or a yearly survey (not that these activities don’t have merit) – it should be an integral part of your communication plan.
To make consumer engagement a central part of your organisation, start with these questions.
1. Who are they?
Who are your consumers? More specifically, who are the consumers that want to actively connect and engage with your organisation. They may be your most loyal consumers, your most recent consumers, your most agitated consumers, the consumers who are affected by a particular issue or come from a particular country, organisation type, age group, socio-economic background or school of thought. Segment your consumers based not just on demographics, but on what element of their needs, preferences or opinions are most important to them right now.
2. What do they want to talk about?
What do they want your company to listen to and understand? Do they want to give positive or negative feedback on your products or services, or suggest new products or services that would better fulfill their needs. Do they need more information about your products or services, or are they confused about what your organisation could do for them. Do they want to engage with or promote your brand because it reflects a social attribute of status they hold or wish to hold, or because they are entertained by the content your organisation produces. Do they want more special offers and deals, or are they looking for news relating to your organisation.
3. Where do they want to talk to you?
Where do these consumers want to engage with your organisation? Are they digital natives, and if so, on what platform do they most engage with organisations and brands – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, Pinterest, Google +, Forums, Email or Blogs. Do they read your print or digital publications, or do they engage with your staff face-to-face in service or retail centres. Do they congregate at community facilities, health facilities, sporting places, arts spaces, educational providers or other physical spaces.
4. How can you listen?
How can you enable a two-way dialogue through your consumers chosen platforms? Are your social media platforms monitored by trained communications staff and do these staff encourage engagement through opening relevant conversations on social media platforms. Do you have a clear channel for consumers to submit comment to your print and digital emails, publications or blogs. Are your call centre, service centre and retail centre staff trained in listening, reacting and recording consumer comments, conversations and input. Are you present and ready to engage at the places were your consumers naturally congregate.
5. How can you absorb?
How can you use what your consumers are telling you to improve your organisation? Is your organisation nimble enough to take on feedback and change systems, products, services or your brand personality according to what you are hearing from your consumers. How will you measure alignment of your organisation with public needs and opinion, and adapt your organisation while retaining your core purpose. Do staff from all departments and levels of your organisation understand the importance of consumer engagement.
6. How can you feedback?
How can you let your consumers know you’re really listening? How do you respond to their needs, based on the type of engagement they are looking for for – immediate acknowledgement, engaged conversation, deeper organisational change.
Listening to your consumers, understanding their needs, catering to their preferences, and constantly evolving with them doesn’t just drive purchases of your products or services, it harvests loyal ambassadors.