Listen, listen, listen – never guess, never assume

Even the most assured, longstanding brand can’t afford to be complacent when it comes to listening to customers. Trends and influences, such as fashion and economy, impact consumer habits, often changing unpredictably. It is vital as a supplier to be aware of these changes and not just assume that the habits your customer had when they first walked through your door are the ones they will keep.

Social media has provided a transparent platform for suppliers to integrate themselves within the consumer community; a two-way conversation between companies and customers.  This arena opens up the opportunity for companies to pick up on the ongoing opinions and trends of their consumers, and to find out what they really think of them (or rather, their products and services). A recent study identified that 59% of companies monitor social media for mentions of their brands and products. Although, worryingly this is down from 70% in 2010, it does show how companies are using social media for ways other than promotion.

Of course, traditional methods of consumer interaction, for example website enquiry forms, are still used, and companies are still listening. An example of this is when Weetabix’s Oatibix product was changed to ‘now include wheat’, supposedly for the added health benefits and improvement of texture. Following much criticism from oat-adoring consumers questioning the change, Weetabix listened to their feedback and changed the recipe back. A victory for the consumer perhaps? Indeed, many received personal emails explaining their complaint had been addressed and even received a money-off coupon for Weetabix products.

Likewise, Starbucks listened to its customers when their favourite brownies and muffins were replaced with fancier, smaller and more expensive options (following their acquisition of pastry firm La Boulange). Starbucks fans demanded change and the coffee giant listened, promptly bringing back some favourites from the old menu to please customers.

Consumers are all unique and expect different things from the same product or service. Listening to these needs and recognising when change is needed, is a customer service basic that’s key to every company.