When did you last listen to customer calls?

As a manager or head of department, the day is filled with meetings, planning, liaising with colleagues and dealing with your team.  Making time for another task is never easy, but if you’re not regularly listening to customer calls, you need to move out or delegate some other activities to do this.

One of the firms I’m working with at the moment is really, really obsessed with delighting their customers. Simple products, engaging conversations, rapid response and a strong culture of growth and value make this business a pleasure to work with, as a contractor as well as for customers! One of the few changes that the businesses needed to make was to better understand how it felt to be a customer in order to help prioritise the many changes and innovations they have up their sleeve.  Whilst commissioning a research company to conduct interviews and surveys on your behalf to gather analysis and insight is on way of handling this, we opted for a much more down to earth approach – listening to customer calls.  As a manager, director or VP, you may well roll your eyes, or point to your perfectly adept quality assurance manager who does that task, but I can assure you that making 2 hours to listen to live or recorded customer calls will give you more insight, feedback, suggestions and ideas than any external research – and in a much shorter timeframe.

There’s a number of other benefits – you hear what it’s like to be a customer (your team delivery) but also what it’s like to serve your customers.  Your systems and processes may support or impede there ability to deliver amazing service – you’ll experience the reality on the calls.  Your tone of voice and style (versus what you trained or communicated when you team first joined will be evident) – stiff and efficient or warm and engaging.  You’ll also cringe at certain phrases, use of jargon or poor handling of sticky situations, so there will be plenty of material for individual coaching and team workshops.  As a senior manager or leader, it helps you reconnect to the reality of what you do, away from reports, SLAs, performance data.  It humanises your experience and re-connects you with the customer that pays your salary.  It should inject new life into your own customer passion.

But call listening should not just be done as a tick box exercise; as with any scheduled task, it needs to be actionable.  In my case, call listening identified a number of bad habits, requiring tactical actions, but also a broader awareness that for this company’s customers, the renewal process involved just as many steps as signing up in the first place.  This might not be a problem if we communicated the requirements to renew better, made it easier to complete online and proactively notified customers of their pending renewal.  Voilà!  From a few hours of call listening, we had identified a critical change to make in the customer experience, leading to a real business benefit – increased and more timely renewal.

Being involved in customer listening brings you back into the heart of the team, helps you connect and reduces the risk of you being labelled as “the management”.  You empathise with the trial and tribulations your team faces, and you can celebrate their success.  One nice twist suggested by one of the managers I’m working with was to allow the team to nominate their best call for listening.  This make the team feel good, let’s you validate if their “good” and your “good” are aligned and builds up a library of excellent training and coaching calls.

Overall, no matter how senior you are, it’s always to get back to the floor, reconnecting with customers and team to see what it really feels like to be your customer.  You never know just what you might discover!

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