Listening – the most powerful tool for your brand

September 2, 2014

Although my friends and colleagues probably think of me as a talkative person, listening is one of my favorite activities. I am immensely curious about everyone’s human experience, and I even considered training to become a therapist at one point. Instead, I headed into branding which I like to think of as talk therapy and art therapy for business.

When the opportunity came up for me to move into sales, I was initially nervous. The stereotype for sales people is pushing their own agenda, ignoring what the customer wants and trying to trick or fool them into signing up. But I realized quickly that the best sales people are actually the ones who listen the most. I have learned to go even beyond what prospects are literally saying to listen for clues of additional issues or problems that we might be able to solve. I listen for patterns, for keywords, for the root of problems not just the symptoms. It’s a skill I have learned and continue to hone, and it’s helped me immensely.

So, it always surprises me when I see a brand out there claiming to be making connections with customers, but in reality just demonstrating its lack of listening. Or trying to feign listening, while really pushing its own agenda. Take for example United Airlines’ recent blunder of sending a form letter in response to a customer complaint. While it starts out empathetic enough “Thank you for letting us know about your recent experience. I apologize if our service did not meet your expectations…” it goes south quickly when you realize they forgot to swap the placeholders of “SPECIFIC EVENT,” “SPECIFIC ITEM” and “CUSTOMER NAME” with the actual information. I dare say this response is worse than having received no response at all.

On the other end of the spectrum, brands like TD Bank and Capital One are demonstrating the benefit of their ability to listen. In a recent commercial, TD Bank builds a fake ATM and invites frequent clients in to test it out. They then surprise these chosen customers with personalized gifts selected just for them. You see, they had secretly polled the tellers about their clients; the gifts reflected what the bank knew about them on a personal level. While the bank states the commercial is just about saying Thank You – the reality is, it’s about listening. TD Bank is demonstrating that it’s listening carefully and a brand promise of receiving personalized service shines through. The video has nearly 10 million views on YouTube.

Capital One achieved the lauding of a similar, personalized customer experience, albeit on a smaller scale. After a client complained that due to a broken keyboard he could no longer type his password into his online account and he was frustrated at the inability to copy/paste on that page, Capital One responded by sending him a new keyboard. It was so unusual for a credit card company to listen and go out of its way, that Reddit users actually accused Capital One of faking the whole incident. It was, in fact, real. (Although who knows if the customer would have received the keyboard if he was several months behind in payments.)

Listening is one of those acts that you can’t just claim to do. You have to walk the walk. Similar to building trust with a customer, actions can speak louder than words. It’s a longer-term game; the result may not be seen immediately. But when it does become apparent, it is more powerful in building your brand than any outright promise you can make.

What are some brands you can think of what do an especially good job at listening? Who have you encountered who has actively not listened?

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