Hey there marketer...are you listening? The idea of creating conversations with customers is wonderful in theory and, for most companies, scary as hell in practice. Who knows what customers will say? Will they gather around and laud praise on you for each and every move you make? Or, will customers show up with pitch forks and torches to try to run you off the Net?
Chances are you're in for a little bit of both, but in order to start your move toward creating a conversation you have to be listening. Listening is arguably one of the hardest skills for most human beings to acquire. Great marketers can turn what they're hearing into actionable, on-target insights that further conversation. Bad marketers don't listen, they react and browbeat their customers to ensure their ass is covered.
Conversations are two-way streets. Dialogs. Active listening is the first step to really engaging in a conversation independent of what tactics you're using to do it. This form of listening is the process of engaging with a customer, hearing what they're saying, confirming that you understand what they're saying and creating an action plan to respond to what they need.
The temptation today is to go out, create a blog or a wiki or an extranet and then say "Hey look, I'm creating conversations with my customers!" These are all great tactics, but implementing any of them and not applying active listening is useless. If customers are taking the time to comment on a blog, for example, you should listen to what they're saying and reply individually to them (either online or offline). The more customers that say the same thing the more quickly you should make changes to respond to them. Even a contact us form can deliver real benefits if you respond to each inquiry appropriately and not just filter them into a junk file.
The feedback you receive is very valuable information. Information that you would gladly pay thousands of dollars to a research company to give you customer insights. The problem for many marketers is that this is coming to you directly. There is no company filtering responses to give you recommendations and too often companies put up a wall and ignore them or worse they get confrontational and protective.
Valeria Maltoni @ Conversation Agent (one of, if not the, best written blogs around) had a nice piece yesterday about the underlying meaning within conversations. She points out that in real-world conversations there are cues you can take to more fully understand meaning. These are more challenging online as you may have no context for the conversation, may not have met the person before and you certainly can't gauge their tone. (One of the nicest people I've ever worked with also had the meanest email voice I've ever "heard" and I had to apply a filter.) Active listening can help overcome these hurdles.
Agile marketing companies are leveraging new technology to create real, one-to-many and many-to-many conversations. They are using the outcome from that interaction to make meaningful, remarkable, relationship-enhancing changes that impact their clients in a positive manner. Are you listening?