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Go From Good to Great by Listening to Your Customers

by Bolivar J. Bueno  |  
September 17, 2012

What causes customers to flock to one brand while remaining coldly indifferent to another—even when the offerings of the companies in question aren't substantially different?

Years of research have revealed that the single most important factor that separates the good companies from the great companies—Adidas from Nike, Kawasaki from Harley-Davidson, Hewlett-Packard from Apple—is the ability to listen to their customers. That's the starting point.

Dominant organizations, we've learned, are those that can discern meaning from the information given. In other words, they're doing more than listening. They're hearing. And they're deriving their direction from what they hear.

How, exactly, does such effective listening work?
It's not an intuitive process. We have no automatic structure inside our collective psyche that allows us to deeply, effortlessly, and effectively understand each other. We have to work at understanding.

Luckily for us, generations of great thinkers, philosophers, and researchers have delved deeply into the nuances of human nature. You've heard of a lot of these people. Maslow, Jung, and Campbell are familiar names for any student of the psyche. By taking an integrative approach and drawing from and combining these insights, we can equip ourselves to listen to our customers.

Step 1: Understand the Unconscious

Understanding that the vast majority of human experience, communication, and thought take place on an unconscious level is the first step in listening to the customer. Even though we may not be aware we're doing so, we're continually taking note of the environment around us—how people interact within that environment, and what role we play as individuals.

That information has a profound role in guiding consumer behavior. Begin by realizing truly effective communication means being able to listen on multiple levels—to what is said and what is left unsaid.

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Bolivar J. Bueno is founder and managing partner of The Cult Branding Company, a brand modeling and consumer insight research firm. He is also the author of Customers First: Dominate Your Market by Winning Them Over Where It Counts the Most.

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  • by Colter Diehl Mon Sep 17, 2012 via web

    This is a great post, I love the analysis of Jungian theory as applied to marketing. There are so many lessons that we can glean from our daily relational interactions to improve our marketing strategies. Listening is, I believe, one of the most important.

  • by Allison DeFord Mon Sep 17, 2012 via web

    Thanks for a great article! Our process is similar, however, what I'm finding is that it only works with companies who truly want to go from good to great. Who are willing to actually ask customers what they think, find out what they want. So many companies we meet with "think" they already know. A missed opportunity to say the least. It's like throwing money out the window.

    Listening is truly one of the most important things we can do in business.

  • by Harsh Adhyapak Tue Sep 18, 2012 via web

    Good read. We always know that the communication interface between a brand or merchant and a consumer or customer is a human one yet always find ourselves attracted to short cuts or seemingly quick fix solutions. Customer retention is about effective dealing with human beings which is, among other things, old fashioned sincere engagement. Duplicity or insincerty mainly emanating from misguided principles mostly resutls in customer dissatisfation.
    Thanks for the article.

  • by Nikhil Tue Sep 18, 2012 via web

    What a balanced post!

    Hey Bolivar, heartiest congratulations on this one! You have beautifully brought out the 'how to' of listening to customers.

    The importance of listening to customers cannot be overemphasized. And this post is one of those rare ones that leave nothing left unsaid because it addresses the topic in such seminal style.

    Do keep writing such stuff.

  • by Per Ekholm Thu Sep 20, 2012 via mobile

    Great article. Based on my own experiences I fully agree and to understand your customers needs is the foundation when you build your strategy.

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