Listen Up: Ignoring Your Customers is Killing Your Business

Written by Jon Saxton

In the last few months, we’ve been talking about talking.

Leaders Listen

The first of our five core values is leadership. To us, leadership is our passion for education and empowerment.

We firmly believe that leadership is a behavior, not a position. That’s why this year, we implemented a Leadership Development Program, or LDP.

The LDP is an internal program that seeks to teach, mentor, and organically develop leaders within our agency. It’s an entirely voluntary program that team members have the option to seek out.

It’s a five-month program that dives into topics of leadership that range from leading oneself, leading in our organization, leading with clients, and leading within our industry.

In the very first month of the LDP, we explored how we lead ourselves.

Education and Empowerment

That’s our short definition of leadership as a core value – our passion for education and empowerment. At first glance, that’s a very outward-facing view. On behalf of our clients, how can we best set customers up for success? What messaging strategies will best resonate and communicate important information and value to the right audience?

With that mindset, the topic of leading oneself was a major reality check.

Breaking Out of Your Bubble

The whole concept of inbound marketing is based on interactions that are relevant and helpful.

It’s easy to get caught up in your business, and your value proposition, and your expertise. It’s much more important to get out of your bubble and hear from your customers.

Are You Listening to Your Customers?

No, really. Are you listening to your customers? Or are you “listening” to validate your own business and marketing choices?

There are 4 stages of business listening:

The Four Stages of Business Listening


These are the businesses don’t listen to their customers, and who don’t care. They do their own thing, with no concern of how customers perceive them. Characteristics of a non-listening business include a love of their own business, and the idea that their customers love their business, but a total confusion as to why their sales and revenue numbers (or other key metrics) aren’t where they should be.


These are the businesses who listen to their customers, but don’t really care. That’s why they’re set apart with quotation marks. They may have listening processes in place, like satisfaction surveys, a Net Promoter Score process, or even just a feedback box. The kicker is that when they check their feedback, they don’t take it to heart. Any negative feedback is dismissed with the phrase, “well they just don’t understand _________.”

Let me be clear: if your customer doesn’t understand something about your product or service, it’s your own fault. The burden of education and empowerment rests squarely on your shoulders, not your customer. If a customer doesn’t understand what you offer/how it benefits them/how to use it, they’ll go to another business who answers those questions for them.

If you confuse, you lose.

-Donald Miller

Well-Intentioned Laggards

These are the businesses who care about honest, open customer feedback, but don’t have the systems in place to capture it. They recognize the importance of listening to their customers, but for any number of reasons, they just don’t. The reasons range from lack of budget to lack of time to lack of a dedicated person to do it.

On the surface, those may seem to be justified excuses. But just because you can justify not listening doesn’t mean you can get away with it. As with the “listeners,” if customers feel their voice isn’t being heard, they’ll go somewhere that it is. As a result, laggard businesses will always be three steps behind their competitors who are listening and adapting.


These are the businesses who recognize the importance of listening to their customers and have the processes and procedures in place to capture their feedback. These are the businesses who are in the best possible place to build around customers’ wants and needs, and are ready to anticipate changes and trends that can shift entire industries.

How to Listen

Before we start listening, we need to understand how to listen.

Our good friend John Spence, international leadership and business speaker and author, sums up the “how” of listening perfectly in his book, Awesomely Simple:

The most valuable skill for improving your listening is learning to clear your mind and focus only on the speaker.

-John Spence

We can fall into the trap of asking questions as a judger, instead of as a learner, when we already have a story set up in our mind about what somebody is going to say. At that point, we’re not asking questions out of curiosity, we’re asking questions out of a desire to validate ourselves.

Similarly, we can fall into the trap of asking a question, then immediately starting to prepare what we’re going to say next.

Come on, how many of us are guilty of this?

I’ll give you an example: if I ask Kelsey, our Inbound Marketing Manager, how her weekend was and then immediately start thinking about what I’m going to say when she asks me about mine, I’m going to miss everything she’s saying. Or, I’m going to be half listening and nodding now and again.

Not only is that unfair to Kelsey, it’s unfair to me when I miss out on the information I’m asking for.

When we’re truly curious and ask good questions and then be present as listeners, we open up opportunities to capitalize on new information.

Remember to ask questions from the perspective of the “learner” rather than as a “judger.”

-Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan

The Tools

Once we’ve done that, what are the tools for collecting the insights that will be so valuable to your business? The list is nearly infinite and has endless variations by industry, but here are a few common methods:

Social Listening

Social listening is an ongoing activity that involves finding and tracking mentions and conversations about a brand, outside of direct mentions, comments, and messages on that brand’s own profiles.

Tools like AgoraPulse, Mention, and Google Alerts are excellent sources of information about what’s being said about your brand – even if not directly to your brand.

Customer Reviews

Customer reviews are one of the most trusted sources of information for potential new customers. With that said, not every review is a positive one. Negative public reviews can sting if taken too personally, but they’re a huge opportunity.

If your brand is able to respond and resolve an issue brought up in an online review, in a timely manner and without getting defensive, you may be able to turn a naysayer into a promoter. If that turnaround can be displayed publicly, all the better.

Surveys and Other Research Methods

Smart research takes intentional planning and setup, but often yield the best – and most actionable – insights from customers. Ask yourself, where in your sales cycle can you learn more about your customer?

  • Do you have an opportunity to ask about expectations at the onset of a relationship with a customer or client?
  • Can you check in and ask that person how their experience is going?
  • If a customer either finishes or leaves, how should you follow up and ask what was good and what needs improvement?

If your business operates on larger projects, it’s one thing to have a post-mortem at its completion to internally discuss what went great, what went wrong, and how to fix it from your perspective. That conversation can be dramatically improved when driven by real feedback from the client’s perspective.

Customer Experience Is Your Brand

Customer Experience Is Your Brand

Customer experiences set your company apart, and a smart business drives the experience they provide based on customer feedback.

Get Closer to Your Customers

As a business grows, leaders naturally step into leadership roles. Often, that means stepping away from client-facing roles, which can lead to a dangerous disconnect where the leaders of a business no longer understand the customers. Either find ways to get closer to your customers, or empower the people in sales and customer service roles – the client-facing roles – to collect and bring feedback and ideas to your leadership team.

The Next Step: Action

Of course, even the best customer feedback systems and the best slide decks from your management team about the importance of that feedback will fall flat if it’s not acted upon.

The key to delivering a perfect experience and a perfect message at the right time at the right price point is understanding exactly what that means not for you, but for your customer.

Taking action is what elevates you from a collector to an adapter, and sets your business to become a visionary.

Get Closer to Your Customers

Get Closer to Your Customers

The year was 2007 in Philadelphia, home to the triumph represented by the Liberty Bell, the triumph represented by Rocky Balboa, and the triumph represented by a college fundraising department.

Jon Saxton

Jon recognizes passion and works to convey that in powerful ways. With an eye toward what could be and an understanding of how, he brings energy and ideas to everything he works with.