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Are You "Tone Deaf" When It Comes to Listening to Your Customers?

Do you really listen to your customers?  Or, are you like many small business owners who think that no complaints mean things are good?  Or worse, if there are complaints, the customers don’t appreciate your product or service’s true capability?  In short, it’s the customer who’s wrong, not the company.  
Does your ego or your inattentiveness just make you “tone deaf” when it comes to listening to what your customers are really saying to you?
I have a client who has had over a 25% annual customer turnover rate for the last five years with a key service offering. But because his offering was so unique and in demand, without much competition, he could always replace lost customers.  However, markets never stand still, and now he has a bunch of competitors, and that was the reason why I was called in. 
He recently lost a good customer who gave notice and was not going to renew his contract. My client was shocked and not “aware” they were unhappy.  I put aware in quotes because all the signs were there. 
I had done a survey for him of a majority of his customers six months earlier and told him that one of his large customers (this one), among others, was particularly unhappy.   His customers operate on annual contracts, and this customer told me, mid-way through the contract, that he probably was not going to renew, giving me a litany of reasons.  I passed these on to the client, who sort of blew off my recommendation that he contact the customer and have a one-on-one dialogue about it. He said he would consider it, but this customer was a real “complainer” and just “didn’t get it” when it came to the power of the service the client was offering.
Unfortunately, this happens more often than you’d imagine. Some businesses are simply “tone deaf” to customer feedback regarding defects in products or slippages in service levels.
Here are some ways to avoid being less “tone deaf” and more aware when it comes to your customer relationships:
Customers Have a Right to Demand Better Service. They Have a Choice and… A Checkbook!
If customers feel they are not getting their money’s worth, they have a right to “complain,” especially if service levels fall far below what is promised. Don’t pass them off as “complainers” or “difficult.” By not addressing those complaints, they can always go elsewhere, taking their money and their business with them. Before they do, you should find out the source of their complaint and review it to see if it’s really a problem.  Whether it is or not, it provides a reason to talk to the customer, personally.
Always Know Where You Stand with Your Customer Base
Never go more than a quarter, if not more often, without a direct contact point. Whether that’s an outreach by you or a customer survey, you should never be surprised that customers are unhappy.  In fact, the ones who are really unhappy may never tell you…until they are ready to leave, just like my client’s customer.
Make Them The “Star of Your Story”
Think about putting good customer case studies on your website or on a weekly or monthly newsletter or email highlights describing how customers are using your product, not how great your company is doing – although that can be included – after you talk about your customers.
Ask Their Advice/Take Them into Your Confidence
Maybe you can even form a customer advisory group that you, the owner, meet with on a periodic basis, that becomes a two-way conversation.  They tell you how your product is doing, what features and functions you should be thinking about.  You tell them how the company is doing and some of the plans you have.    You could even have a select group with whom you have a non-disclosure agreement and bounce ideas and plans for a new generation of products or services.
Oh, that customer of my client gave his 60-day notice.  But, it caused the client (finally, following my advice) to institute a “Loss Review” that he now uses any time he loses a customer to learn from and grow.
Good customer relationships, like all relationships, are two-way feedback ones, and they need to be nurtured, regardless of whether you have 20 customers or 2000.  A lot of business owners simply abdicate when it comes to this area of the business.  Like my client, “no complaints” means no problems…until they leave!   You need to keep your finger on the pulse of what your customers are saying or asking.
“The Entrepreneur’s Yoda” knows these things. He’s been there. May success be with you!



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