The Internet changed the way companies communicated with their customers forever. Consumers used to get branding messages and expected benefits of consumption through the advertising media, and still do to some extent. But today, many millions now communicate with each other on the Internet, exchanging real stories of products and customer service experiences with each other. Companies would do well to tap into what their customers really think, but are the today's top executives really listening? Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings, says things could be better.
"In an influential essay, ‘11 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader’, Dave Kerpen points out that two of the most important are listening and responding," says Firth. "Too few leaders really listen to their customers or their employees, and many struggle to respond to the people they deal with. One of the biggest challenges for any business leader – to really know what is going on in an organisation – can be addressed by simply listening more."
Kerpen's essay, which originally appeared on business connection site LinkedIn, says listening is the foundation of any good relationship. "Great leaders listen to what their customers and prospects want and need, and they listen to the challenges those customers face. They listen to colleagues and are open to new ideas. They listen to shareholders, investors, and competitors."
Firth calls it the three Cs: customers, colleagues and competitors. “In this day and age, the social media hype has given us an added advantage in that a new type of employee can tap into the media messages of competitors,” he points out. “Samsung’s approach to Apple’s launch of the iPhone 5 in the last quarter of 2012, in Cupertino, California, is a perfect illustration of this. While the launch was taking place, the company gathered its business executives and marketing teams to listen to the Apple hype disseminating via social media from the exclusive Apple briefing. As the two-hour briefing finished, Samsung already had a marketing campaign that used some of the negative points coming from the so called ‘Apple Fan Boys’. This was definitely a first in the world.”
There may not be any game-changing technology breakthroughs in 2013, but smart businesses will be looking at how to leverage those that are maturing quickly in order to listen better.
"Business leaders can use cloud, tablet computing and better telecoms infrastructure to find out what their customers really think of them," says Firth. "Cloud infrastructure makes feedback mechanisms faster and cheaper, and mobile devices connect the leader directly to the employee and the customer – anytime, anywhere."
But as Kerpen notes in ‘11 Simple Concepts’, responding is the essential follow-up to listening. "The best leaders are responsive to their customers, staff, investors, and prospects," he writes. "Every stakeholder today is a potential viral sparkplug, for better or for worse, and the winning leader is one who recognises this and insists on a culture of responsiveness. Whether the communication is e-mail, voice mail, a note or a tweet, responding shows you care and gives your customers and colleagues a say, allowing them to make a positive impact on the organisation.”
Firth says the power of responsiveness can be seen in the South African telecoms market with the rise of Neotel. "Neotel’s competitiveness means it becomes a valid option for companies looking to gain better service levels. Neotel’s offerings are increasingly competitive, and it offers one overriding benefit that Telkom doesn’t: excellent service levels once installed, up and running. The telco has focused not only on deploying a world-class network, but on ensuring its customers get good support and customer service."