by Subir Chowdhury
Searching for data? Don’t get carried away. Perhaps all you need to do is listen.
Even big and successful companies will – from time to time – forget the importance of listening.
Microsoft spent years combating the perception that it couldn’t deal with or didn’t care about stability problems in its Windows operating system.
Adobe let the prices of its high-level production software rise to the point of alienating many of their ‘loyal’ users to the point where they began to demand cheaper alternatives.
Toyota has been hammered by persistent stories about quality and headline-grabbing recalls. First, it was acceleration problems and floor mats; then it was the airbags.
Of course, we understand the business practice of collecting data. We want to stay in the flow of infinite variations that may affect our businesses and organizations. We will monitor social media, news media, and customer comments on review sites. We may crack open the research toolkit and deploy surveys, polls, one-on-one interviews, and focus groups. We will target specific data points and go to our important audiences: our customers, our front-line employees (sales and CSR), our suppliers, partner organizations, even our competitors. And when we’ve collected all the input we can, we’ll want to pour over the data and make our analysis as reliable as possible.
There’s so much data that we can collect, but much of it is at an arm’s distance. What if it isn’t enough? Could it be that we fall short of our quality goals because we do not engage careful and intelligent listening where it matters most?
Problems come and go, but it’s how we deal with problems that make us stand out. Customers, constituents, stakeholders, investors, family members, even the receptionist at your office – any of these could be a valuable source of information – and all of them want to make a contribution.
For the record, each of the companies I have mentioned has since made constructive efforts to reach out to their customers and show that they are in fact LISTENING. There’s no rigid, step-by-step technique for listening. You just have to use your common sense. I can offer these suggestions that can help you remember that effective listening is quite straightforward:
- Get out from behind your desk. Leave the spreadsheets behind and go to your customers. Go to the factory. Go to the sales floor. Go to where the problems are. Go to where the facts are. Get in front of the action and get the first-hand experience.
- Stop talking. It’s hard to listen when you’re the one doing all the talking. Watch what happens. Watch what your employees are doing. Watch what your customers are doing. Listen for keywords and phrases – listen to the tone of voice. Even if you’re confident that you’ve got it, stop and listen more.
- Show empathy. Look at the world through other people’s eyes. Be in the moment and encourage your employees and customers to tell their story. Remember that it’s not about your expectations; it’s all about their experiences and how they feel.
It is wise to pursue careful and intelligent data collection. It is a proven and efficient way to overcome problems and achieve long-lasting solutions. But don’t forget your basic listening skills – they may be your most useful tool yet. Maybe pointer #4 should be “keep it simple.” Sometimes, all we have to do is pick up the phone and ask a question.