To improve their customer loyalty programs and processes, brands need to know what their customers’ preferences are, what communication channels they use, and what types of products and rewards they like. Often, brands can use the indirect data that customers provide, such as demographics and purchase histories, to deduce these preferences. However, brands should not overlook the fact that they can ask their customers direct questions about what they like through surveys and other means of qualitative report.
Jeff Nicholson, vice president of CRM product marketing at Pegasystems, says, “In this era of higher-than-ever customer expectations, how we define ‘listening’ needs to be more than just NPS and general feedback. Brands need to go deeper by considering the customer’s greater data landscape and unique context in the moment to form a new and improved sense of empathy.”
Conducting this kind of direct customer research can come with some challenges. To help brands engage these challenges, Loyalty360 sought to understand how brands approach the problem of listening to their customers. To do so, we asked senior level marketers what benefits they’ve received from surveying and listening to customers and what challenges they’ve faced to get at this data. From the answers, we drew four conclusions. First, brands need to categorize their customers. Second, they need to diversify the methods by which they obtain customer input. Third, they need to continually refine the tools and techniques they use to collect customer data. Fourth, they need to respond promptly to customer efforts at communication.
Shannon Andrick, vice president of marketing advancement for Alliance Data, says, “In today’s world, change and choice are the only true constants, which makes it challenging for brands to understand customers’ varying preferences. One effective strategy we see value in across the industry is understanding key customer segments, such as generational groups, to make strategic decisions that resonate more broadly.”
In other words, brands need to categorize. Categorization requires that brands understand that their customers come from diverse demographics and that each demographic presents its own challenges. Hence, brands need to consider how to respond to each challenge in an appropriate way. If they do not, customer loyalty, satisfaction, and revenue could all be affected. Constructing a workflow process to categorize customer challenges, prioritize them, determine appropriate responses, and deliver those responses is essential.
Another step brands need to take is diversification. Diversification requires that brands use different methods to collect and understand customer preferences. Such methods could include surveys, focus groups, advisory boards, social media communication, and others. Successful brands avoid over-reliance on just one or two of these methods because all methods have some disadvantage, some blind spot that affords less comprehensive data. Furthermore, engaging customers through mobile applications has proven very beneficial to a great number of marketers. Customers not only seem to enjoy using mobile applications a great deal; their data is also easier to collect through those applications.
Jonathan Dyke, COO at Spring Marketplace, offers an example of how diversification can be carried out. “Suppose a leading retailer knows that one of its top-spending ecommerce customers is in a physical location (like a shopping mall) where that retailer has a store. Knowing if that customer went into the store and how much they spent is very important. Because of this, brands might need to offer customized real-time touch points to learn from and engage this customer.”
Furthermore, the profess of refinement is essential to listening to the customer as well. More successful brands tend to adjust the tools and techniques they use to collect and analyze customer data. For example, if a feature of a brand’s loyalty program changes, then this change might call for an adjustment in how survey questions are articulated. Most brands consider refinement a best practice, enabling them to obtain more accurate data and more actionable insights.
Responding to customers promptly is also important. Sarah Simon, senior director of customer experience consulting at Confirmit, says, “Closing the loop is critical in turning the Voice of the Customer into a driver for business change. Our most successful customers combine action management processes which ensure issues are escalated, giving employees the autonomy to select appropriate resolutions to customer issues. The blend of customer insight and empowered employees is key to delivering the smooth experiences that customers demand.” 
So, even if a brand cannot offer the customer an immediate solution, that brand should still respond because the customer will be more satisfied if she feels that her ideas have been taken seriously. Best practices surrounding response mirror the traditional steps of interpersonal communication: listen to the customer’s problem, acknowledge it, indicate what can be done about it, and follow through with whatever action has been promised. These best practices maintain, or even generate, brand credibility.
Jeff Caplan, vice president of strategic marketing services at 89 Degrees, adds, “Our clients extend a lot of time and effort listening and responding to customer feedback. We look at this data as much as we can, and we find it incredibly important in reshaping and refining the benefits of our loyalty programs and the ways in which we communicate to program members.”
The full executive report on listening to customers can be downloaded here:

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