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Marketing Rule #1- Listen and Listen Well

Listening doesn’t happen with the ears only. It is a system of capturing all the information from the customer.  It is a function of always monitoring communication with customers and correctly adding (or subduing) the sound to the real meaning. 

It can be in the simplest form; such as responding to customer voice intonation.  I am always irritated to be up-sold by fast food restaurants.  This is the practice of suggesting to “large size it,” or add a desert to the order you just placed.   I know what I want and am seldom sold more than I order.  On the second up-sell, my voice becomes slightly impatient as I say “No thank you” for the second time.   I am surprised how few times the clerk picks up on this, and simply up-sells again, the third time I say, “I would have asked for it if I wanted it”.   By now I’m irritated, and will enjoy my lunch just a little less.  The incredible part is the rote response, “Sorry I have to say that,” as if she had already irritated and refuted a dozen other customers that day.  Here is a case of the server being trained to up-sell, and not being trained to respond to the customer, no matter what the customer says about a practice. 

This fast food business is looking at the numbers only.  They are not listening to all the customers. They see that their business does increase when they do suggestive selling and up-selling, but they miss the number of customers that are irritated by the practice.  These customers ultimately add a small minus to their mentalvalue notebook, which just waits until the time comes to select the next restaurant.

But listening should happen on other levels as well. The real voice of the customer resides in buying patterns.  When was the last purchase, how often are purchases made, and how much was spent?  These can be summarized asrecency, frequency and monetary value, (RFM).  “Listening” at this level requires sufficient data, unlike the street savvy required in the example above.  Data mining, as some call it, has become the largest set of ears a company has. 

The Milliken Company started listening to customers in this fashion over 10 years ago.  Information can be misleading with only a one time snapshot, but Milliken reports now that it has enough historical information to report six clear trends with its customers:

This List was included in The New Rules of Marketing: How to Use One-To-One Relationship Marketing to Be the Leader in Your Industry by Frederick Newell.  Newell goes on to quote Kay Partney Lautman, a veteran Fundraising Award recipient form the Direct Marketing Association.  She says:  “Now that everything is computerized. . . people are thought of as segments, not people.  In some ways we need to go back to the old way of treating people. . .”  This is the entire purpose of a relationship marketing program. 

The third way of listening to the customer involves knowing who you are listening to.  As one of hundreds of hamburger purchasers in a day, the chances of my influencing business is slight (unless a franchise owner reads this column), but my influence on computer and software sales is more dramatic.  I have shifted tens of thousands of dollars away from a primary software retailer based on senseless policies and arrogant customer service people.   As a seminar speaker,  marketing systems expert, and major systems influence on clients, my opinion ofcomputer and software service has much more weight that my opinion of fast food service.  Organizations must work to know who they are dealing with.  What type of consumer is each of your customers;  what buying habits, what demographics and what ability to influence do they have?  This is called segmenting your customers.

It’s true, “listening harder” means understanding RFM and all that it brings to the table; segmenting, as well as maintaining the old fashioned street savvy ear to the customer.  Companies that have the largest collective ears, will have a chance to really “hear.”  While that does not mean they will act on the information, they will certainly have an advantage.  Those companies that combine “Listening Harder” with their customer relationship marketing programs, leverage this advantage even further.

Ron Burgess