Episode #2: Why Listening to Your Customers is More Important Than Ever

Part 1 of our Listen, Learn, Love trilogy — a new way to think about how to really work with customers. Today we start with listening. Something we’ve always done (surveys, focus groups), but can now supercharge with modern channels: social media, chat, review sites, forums, and blogs. It’s a better way to truly understand your customers and prospects.

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All right, welcome to the CXM experience. And as usual, I’m your host, Grad Conn.

Today we’re going to talk about a structure that I really love. I think, in all my years in marketing, this is the favorite way I’ve developed to think about how to really work with customers. And it’s something we’ve been doing for a really, long time. It’s something that’s a little bit more interesting, a little bit more automated, and a little bit more broad scale now, but we’ve always tried to understand the customer. We’ve always gone to focus groups and done surveys and asked people questions in malls, and did all sorts of stuff with clipboards, and had people fill stuff out. There’s always been a thirst to understand the customer.

Today, what we have is millions upon hundreds of millions of customers, giving us their feedback, unbidden. Right? We have this unsolicited, unstructured commentary that appears across different places. Review sites: think about all the reviews on Amazon and Walmart and sites like that. Blogs: millions of blogs have comments about products and companies and categories. Forums: forums have become a huge place to understand…

I’m looking at a car purchase right now, and it’s amazing how much exists on owner forums and in different Facebook groups, etc. They talk about the cars, and the vehicles and what to look out for and what to ask for. And then of course, there are all the social platforms like Twitter, Facebook. And then of course, there’s the messaging platforms, which are a way of directly communicating with customers through things like WhatsApp and WeChat.

All that stuff. Think of those as modern channels. And the idea of listening has always been around. But our ability to listen is really gotten significant now. And in fact, in the old days, when we sought customer feedback through things like focus groups, we were getting a very small sample of what a very small group of people thought about our product. And there was a ton of bias and a ton of issues with that approach.

Today, we get a very large sample of what most of our customers are thinking. The new challenge is how do you process millions of comments? The great thing about focus groups is you could take notes, and you could have a summary of what that group of 10 people said pretty easily. Now you have to get a summary of what 10 million people said. And that’s very challenging. So listening is become something that’s really, really cool on modern channels. And it’s the first step of the structure I like to call, Listen, Learn, and Love.

So the second step, which is “Learn,” I’ll talk about tomorrow, and then “Love” I’ll talk about closer to the end of the week. But today, we’re just going to stay on the listening part.

So, I’m going to spend few more minutes just talking about unstructured unsolicited data. What I mean by that is that the comments that people make on these modern channels are unstructured. And when I say they’re unstructured, they’re unstructured in some pretty compelling ways, because people will tend to talk about multiple brands, talk about multiple emotions, and talk about multiple kinds of feedback in a single post. So often, people will say something like, “I bought Brand X and it made me sad because it was broken, and I never had this experience with Brand Y that always delivered this kind of value.” It’s very hard to parse that kind of feedback. When you look at the more sophisticated listening platforms, and which Sprinklr would be considered probably the most sophisticated today, we heavily use AI to be able to do that. And the amount of work that’s gone into the AI engines at Sprinklr is extraordinary. More than six years of development at this point, works in more than 90 languages. And we’re pulling in and parsing the nuance of the human reactions and the human behavior that’s implicit in all these posts.

The second thing is the idea of it being unsolicited. I think there’s a big difference between me asking you to fill out a survey, and you deciding to. There’s an inherent bias that immediately goes into play. So like quantum theory – the Heisenberg uncertainty principle – as soon as you observe a system, you alter the system. So the act of observing in a focus group, the act of observing in a deliberate survey alters the system itself and you don’t really know if that feedback is as genuine as it should be. Or biased to be just the people who are unhappy, or biased to be just the people who are happy, or biased to people who are maybe unhappy, but say they’re happy because they don’t want to get poor customer service next time.

The thing about the unsolicited feedback that appears unbidden across all these modern channels is that that’s what people think. No one asked them to say it. They’re just talking about it, and you’ll see positive and you’ll see negative and you’ll see all sorts of crazy stuff in between. But it is a very unbiased sample. And I do think people are under estimating the power of lack of bias in these unsolicited comments that appear across all these different modern channels.

So really, how do you listen to all this stuff that’s going on, right? There’re a couple things. One is, you have to be connected to all those platforms through their API. And again, a company like Sprinklr which is so incredibly large, does have first class connections to all of those platforms. You also have to be able to pull in other kinds of information. One of the things we found at Sprinklr is that to really, truly listen, you have to look at modern channels, but also anything that’s digital, from what would sometimes be considered the traditional channels. So all closed caption TV is now a digital feed, we pull that into Sprinklr, and most major newspapers now have a digital feed, we pull that into Sprinklr. Much of radio is the same, we pull that into Sprinklr. In fact, every single type of media source that’s expressed in a digital way, is pulled into Sprinklr. So you can actually look at and see impact across the board.

We do a top 50 most influential CMOs survey for Forbes every year. And part of the way we do that survey is we look at news items in which the CMO is mentioned. And that’s from those traditional channels I just mentioned. And then we look at their social impact and mentions across all the modern channels, blogs, forums, review sites, messaging and social platforms. And then we also look at one particular social platform, which is very important in the business world, which is LinkedIn. And particularly, how are they behaving, ranking, and interacting on LinkedIn. And from that, we are able to formulate a list of the 50 people that we think are most influential. And that’s because of this broad scale listening.

Another thing I’ll say, and just something to watch out for in listening, is that there are a lot of people who say that they listen. But they’re actually sampling, because it’s very difficult and expensive, and requires a tremendous amount of horsepower in the back end, to pull in essentially what are billions of comments. I mean, our data store is about 16 petabytes, if you can imagine, right? So that’s used to train the AI, which is cool. But it’s also a massive, massive amount of information. And most vendors can’t afford that. When they’re sampling, they’re just pulling in a little bit, which is not much better than the old-fashioned focus groups. What you want is, you want to pull in the full fire hose, which is what Sprinklr does. And that, to me, is the critical way to make sure that you’re not just trying to get the sentiment generally as customers — you’re trying to get the sentiment of every customer, so that ultimately you can act on that sentiment.

We’re going to talk about that more in “Learn” and “Love.” But it’s not that I want to get a general sense of how people feel. I want to know how Grad’s feeling, because I’m going to actually have some kind of personalized interaction with Grad. In order to be able to do that for Grad, I’m going to listen to Grad.

All right. So, Listen, Learn, Love. Today was all about “Listen.” We’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll talk about “Learn.”

And let’s stay connected. You can follow me on twitter at @gradconn. Facebook: friend me. LinkedIn: connect with me. Instagram: follow me. The interesting thing is I’m actually the only Grad Conn in the world, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding me wherever you want to go. There is one thing… there is a connector company in China that decided they love my name, and they call themselves Gradconn as a company. So, if you do go to gradconn.com that’s not my side hustle. That’s a completely different company. I think maybe they’re also emulating Foxconn. Anyway, that’s not me, but otherwise, on all the platforms I’m Grad Conn, and I look forward to meeting with you.