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.