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Brand : Ready, Set, Listen!

Practice active listening to obtain valuable customer feedback

March 2010 By Andrea Syverson
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As fast-paced professionals running departments or full-fledged businesses—managing people and projects and schedules and products—listening can sometimes fall off our to-do lists. We don't have time to really pause and listen well. While we may see the value in making time, few of us actually do.

We need to be intensely interested brand listeners. Listening well can certainly help us expand our brand spirit. The insights and perspectives offered by our three significant resources—employees, customers and partners—can lead to true breakthroughs. What percentage of your time do you spend listening to these important people? And just how do you do that?

Brands can practice active listening in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples of two ways companies can make listening a priority:

Face Time From the Top
In one of his first business books, management consultant Tom Peters encouraged leaders to practice "MBWA," that is, management by wandering around. Those who stay hidden in their offices, too busy to look up or out and engage in personal customer interaction, are really just plain missing out. They send a subliminal message that customer knowledge is good rhetoric and appropriate for "customer service people" but not an integrated brand practice.

Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of LEGO, the world's fourth largest toy company, regularly meets with adult fans of LEGO. In a Harvard Business Review conversation with Andrew O'Connell, he stated: "An amazing number of grown-ups like to play with LEGOs. While we have 120 staff designers, we potentially have probably 120,000 volunteer designers we can access outside the company to help us invent. Perhaps most important, these super-users can articulate the product strengths and weaknesses that young children may sense but can't express." These interactions have become so important that LEGO has created two customer-driven programs: LEGO Ambassadors and a LEGO Certified Professionals program. These active customer-listening programs not only keep the CEO in the loop, but all members of the LEGO brand team.

Fortune magazine interviewed Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn about how he stays connected to staff and customers. "He posts questions to an employee Web site called Water Cooler, tracks customer sentiment on social media like Facebook and Twitter, attends focus groups and invites customers to the company's leadership meetings. 'One of my roles as CEO is to be the chief listener. I don't believe that the model is any longer that there a few really smart people at the top of the pyramid that make all the strategic decisions. It is much more about being all around the enterprise and looking for people with great ideas and passionate points of view that are anchored to the business and connected to things our customers care about.' "



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