Choose not to hear customers at your own peril

Greek mythology saw Tiresias, famous for clairvoyance, listen in a variety of forms. As an oracle, he would listen for the songs of birds, or through visions or pictures appearing within the smoke. From mythology to reality, we’re not clairvoyant and we don’t know what our customers want, think and feel. The challenge for us as a sector now is to really understand the difference between listening, and hearing. Listening is part of a discussion with two sides sharing a point of view and no commitment for either to take part. Hearing is a genuine interaction to understand what makes a difference to someone and what their aspirations are.

More than ever, not just listening to customers, but really hearing, is the most important function of any organisation. If we don’t, other employees, customers, potential employees and important stakeholders will. One of the great things about social media means that customer thoughts and feedback are more accessible than ever – and whether they are good and bad, what you do with them is what matters.

Customer engagement is a particularly pressing and topical issue at the moment, with events like Grenfell shining a light on the amount customers feel heard and it’s rightly so at the top of the political agenda, with both Conservative and Labour conferences emphasising the importance of ensuring customer voices are heard. It is vital that we actively listen, ask customers what they want, think and believe, and ultimately act upon it.

At Home Group, our mission is to build homes, independence and aspirations and customer engagement is an important part of delivering this mission. We talk a lot about commercial performance and efficiency as a sector, but tend to keep much of our customer engagement hidden – the two are not mutually exclusive.

Within the private sector customer engagement and satisfaction is often a key measure on a corporate scorecard, with NPS and satisfaction reviewed as often as financial measures. We will only deliver on our social purpose if we hear from customers to steer the direction of what that purpose really and truly needs to be – on top of that we know that highly engaged customers are up to 3 times as valuable as those who are disengaged – so it is win-win.

The facts speak for themselves, companies that hear and act upon what customers really want see better growth – and over hundreds of years, organisations from Disney to Lego have learned that hearing from their customers and communities means that they have been able to respond quickly, innovate and deliver what the customer wants so that they come back time and time again and advocate their brands. Why should our customer expect anything less?

Customer involvement should be an ethos that is part of the DNA of an organisation. From consulting on regeneration projects, to launching new products that make a difference and reviewing an approach to customer service – customers should be involved in most areas of what we do.

Something particularly close to my heart is the great work our Human Library does to shine a light on the diverse Home Group customer and colleague make up. It is an opportunity for customers to share their unique stories within our business and with other customers – meaning that we can really understand the motivations of customers and who they are – as well as what they need from us.

There is always more we can do as a sector, the hearing should never stop. The introduction of more and more digital communication channels shouldn’t be a barrier for our customers, they shouldn’t move us further away into a glass tower – in fact, I think quite the opposite. Never before have we been more accessible, a customer can tweet me or hop on our Live chat and have a conversation with a colleague there and then.

This engagement needs to evolve and grow and there are simple and longer term commitments we can make as a sector;

   •    Hear from outside our own sector. Learn from others who know what works.

   •    Use digital to enable rather than detract from great conversations with customers.

   •    Be honest, listen even when it’s not what you want to hear, and act on insight. The only thing worse than no insight is that which is not                  actioned.

   •    Encourage real scrutiny from customers. Our customer promise assessments give our customers the opportunity to ask important                        questions, challenge us and get honest answers and action

In the longer term, I welcome the opportunity to work with the sector on continuous improvement and challenge in this area. In the meantime, I will commit to continuing to hearing and acting.


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