Why Did You Even Bother to Ask?

Author: Linda J. Popky

You’d think the cardinal sin of customer engagement would be forgetting to ask your customers for their input. However, there’s something many businesses do that’s even worse than that. They ask but they don’t listen.

I find this problem exists in several layers:

  • The Rhetorical Ask – This is where the employee has been trained to ask the customer how things are—without expecting a serious answer back. The typical example of this is the checkout clerk at the supermarket who asks if you found everything you were looking for. He is no more interested in your response than the colleague you meet on the street wants you to tell him how you really are when he says, “How are you?”
  • The Pro Forma Ask – In this case, the business really wants an answer—but only in the form they can process. You may have a choice of only 3 or 4 responses, none of which address what you really want to tell them. But you’ll need to conform to be heard.
  • The Rate Me Highly Ask – We see this with car dealers, among others. “You’ll be receiving a survey from our headquarters. Please be sure to give us the highest rating because we count on that to keep up our reputation.” Nowhere in this response is there room for the customer to offer the input that’s really on their mind.
  • The Good Intentions, Bad Process Ask – In this case, the business really does want to get your honest input. The problem is they don’t know what to do with it once they’ve got it. Product development doesn’t want to hear it; neither do sales or support. Executives are too busy. So that valuable nugget of information you provided gets lost in the system forever.
  • The Kill Me With Kindness Ask –In this situation, the business is so focused on getting your input, they bend over backwards to communicate with you over and over again. Ad nauseum. They add you to mailing lists, text you, or even start calling you. They’re your new best friend—all because you tried to give them some honest feedback.

What’s missing in all of these approaches is an understanding of how to not just solicit input from customers, but a solid process for taking that information back to the right people in the organization who can act on this, and closing the loop with those people who thought enough about you to take the time to tell you what they’re thinking.

In my book  Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters, I introduce the Acknowledge, Accept, Articulate model:

  • Acknowledge that the feedback has been received.
  • Accept that there is valuable input and information in the feedback (whether you agree with what’s said or not).
  • Articulate next steps now that you’ve received this (share it with others, research the issue more deeply, make changes to a process, etc.).

Robert Cialdini, noted author of Influence,  told me recently that it’s much more valuable to ask for advice rather than input. Offering advice brings you and the other party much closer together, while input is given at arm’s length, keeping you apart.

So my advice to you is to know what you are really looking for when you ask your customers for their advice…and be ready to properly use and respond to what they tell you.

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