Are You Hearing Your Customers?

Communication is a remarkable occurrence. Could any business survive without it?

Customer communication

As owners or representatives of an enterprise, we spend countless hours, funds and energy to be heard, to craft our messages, policies and behavior in a way that will truly express our intent.

Many will tell you communication is a 2-way street: you say your piece and then they say theirs. I think there’s a crucial 3rd step..

1 – You craft a message and distribute it through appropriate venues – sales people, advertising media, website, sponsored events, service statements & policies. (This is expression)

2 – Your message is received – or maybe ‘a’ message is received; could be it’s not the message you were delivering. (This is comprehension – or not; who knows?)

3 – Your customers and prospects respond to what they believe they heard (not necessarily what you intended) which might be no response at all. And this is where they show if they ‘get’ you, if you truly communicated.

With these 3 steps in mind, this is how I see communication working: Expression + Comprehension = Communication. Without keeping track of that middle step –what they actually received and comprehended – you may never understand what happened to step 1 and what prompted step 3.

How can you ensure your ‘tracking service’ is on? Keep communication open to always hear your customers. Don’t just send messages; encourage theirs, as well. Their feedback and comments have a fundamental impact on how we run our business, develop policies or create product. These messages, when heard, provide the tweaking process that allows us to always respond to changes in our marketplace.

If yours is the kind of business that has easy access to clientele – a retail establishment, a service or medical professional, an enterprise with sales people, or an organization with frequent membership meetings – first-hand exposure to your customers is built into the way you do business. In this situation, not only can you converse, one-on-one, but you can literally ‘see’ how they perceive you through the body language they exhibit when in your company. When speaking with customers, look and listen; they may be communicating through some classic body language:

  • They touch you on the arm: think this is endearing or familiar? I think it’s insecurity – you’re just not paying attention.
  • Hands on hips: they’re patronizing you or feeling judgmental; wow – you must have committed some offense!
  • Arms crossed: they’re closed off, not interested in hearing you; clearly you’ve lost them.
  • Arched eyebrows: A surprised or confused look; certainly not confident and in control.
  • Pointing a finger: Well that’s pretty clear! That’s an accusatory gesture, even if there’s a smile on their face.

None of these are positive messages and clearly, they call for some corrective action. Just how that can be done is a subject for another article. But, as they say: ‘knowledge is power’. Hearing your customers in this way, knowing how they’re responding, is a tremendous tool as you refine your product, promotions and policies.

If you don’t have the opportunity to meet with your clientele, there are other tools you can employ to ensure the lines are always open. Many have used questionnaires and surveys to find out, as did former N.Y.C. Mayor Koch: ‘How am I doing?’ was a common question from him. If you use newsletters, birthday greetings, rewards programs or e-mailed messages, you’ve got the beginnings of a terrific 3-way street for both contact and clarity. Remember the 3-way street is: Expression + Comprehension = Communication.

You might use these same devices – newsletter, greetings, emailed messages, bill stuffers and such – to invite your customers to become a member of your R&D Team. You may already use an internal R&D team to develop product ideas. How about incorporating the same concept among customers? It can be accomplished easily via email or a devoted page on your website. Consider these benefits:

1. An R&D team made up of your customers allows you to test your plans for product, promotion, policies, pricing outside the hot-house environment of planned research.

2. An R&D team provides you with new ideas for any of the above. Who knows where the next great one is coming from?

3. If your R&D team knows you rely on their feedback you’re likely to get far more candid replies than through an impersonal survey.

4. If you incorporate or reward customers’ ideas, you’ll provide them the opportunity to express themselves, something we all long to do.

5. This creates a powerful form of loyalty, the result of which may be their desire to promote your business; they become your de facto sales team or even evangelists.


When you involve customers in the health of your business and they believe you value their opinions, they take a more active interest to ensure your success, because it represents theirs, as well. This kind of relationship is far more powerful than the purely financial one of their cash in exchange for your goods. The desire to contribute, to make a difference, is a powerful motivator. Allowing this to occur for your customers, simply as a result of hearing them, will give you access to one of your strongest and must underused assets –knowing what your customers think.

About the Author

Andrea Feinberg, M.B.A., G.C.U., is president of Coaching Insight and uses business coaching techniques to enable clients to maximize the many underused assets in their businesses for marketing success, visionary leadership, effective goal setting, productive time management and enhanced employee performance.

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