5 Tricks to Sharpen Your Community Listening Skills and Guarantee Customer Success

6 minute read

October 3, 2017

5 Tricks to Sharpen Your Community Listening Skills and Guarantee Customer Success

What you need is guidance—a handful of tactics to help you listen AND create opportunities for real conversations to take place—the kind that gives meaningful, actionable insights into your customers’ deepest cares and concerns.

So that’s what I’m going to give you today: five tips and tactics to draw out your customers and hear what they really have to say.

But first things first; let’s distinguish between active and passive listening.

The Difference Between Active and Passive Listening

Passive Listening

This is when words and sounds enter one ear and pass right out the other.

We live in a noisy world where something is always playing in the background: televisions in the airport, muzak on the elevator, and so on. As a survival mechanism, we cope by paying the least amount of attention possible to these random sources of noise.

Unfortunately, we often take the same approach when listening to our customers.
Sure, we send out surveys, collect feedback, quantify the results and glance at the open-ended question replies (read: subjective nonsense).

But do we actually take time to process what we hear there? More importantly, do we push back to make these sources tell us better and deeper things than the surface words imply?

Active Listening

Active listening is the opposite of passive listening. It’s what we do when we stop the car, turn up the volume and actually pay attention to what’s playing on the radio. It’s what we do when our kid walks into the room: we put down our book, look them in the eyes and actually try to hear what they’re saying to us.

When we talk about customer success, active listening is what happens when we want more than a couple hastily scrawled lines on a customer service survey.

It’s what we do when we follow up with that customer, ask specific questions about their experience and work hard to tease out the deeper insights behind what they have to say.

Each of the tactics I’m about to share is an exercise in active listening. They’re designed to engage both you and the customer so you can get the most valuable information out of them you can.

1. Amplify Customer Feedback Surveys

I briefly alluded to this in our discussion above on active vs. passive listening. And, no, I’m not talking about hacking survey response rates, as important as that may be.

What I’m talking about is taking your current surveys and turning them up to 11.

How do you do that?

First, take a look at the surveys you’re sending out now. Are they chock full of near-meaningless generalities like:

  • Rate your experience from 1 to 5.
  • What do you like about our product?
  • What features would you like to see in the future?

Fix this by tweaking your questions to grab the customer in their feels:

  • Did we give you what you were expecting?
  • What problems has our product helped you solve?
  • Is there a specific aspect of our product/service you found frustrating?

The next tip here is groundbreaking. Ready for it? When you get your results, actually read them. Pay attention to what your customers are saying. Fight the desire to protect your ego from the “thoughtless” or “uninformed” words of your “ignorant” customers and take them as seriously as you possibly can.

Finally, take it to the next level and follow up with your customers. If they mention specific problems in their survey results—which, remember, is something you want them to do—reach out and ask more specific questions.

As a customer success manager, your job is to get in there and find out what it’ll take to help your customer succeed. This is how you do that.

By the way, I know there are a few survey-hackers out there who’d advocate against open-ended feedback. Pre-defined answer choices make for higher survey response rates, they contend. Be that as it may, nixing open-ended responses altogether ultimately sacrifices quality responses on the altar of quantitative research. Don’t let numbers pull you too far to one side; make sure you get plenty of expressive, subjective feedback from your customers.

2. Iterate Your Customer Feedback Processes

Speaking of surveys, when was the last time yours got an update?

Customer surveys are one of the most valuable tools in soliciting feedback, but only if it remains hyper-relevant and targeted to your customers in your market.

To that end, you must leverage your constantly evolving knowledge of your customers and their experience to craft more meaningful survey questions. Use them to gain further insight into how they’re interacting with your product and how you can continue contributing to their success.

What might that look like? Consider this example using a made-up CRM named Groovy:

Survey Question A: “How has GroovyCRM helped you take control of your client relationship management?”

Survey Response A1: “Groovy gave me an easy way to dump all of my client contacts into one central place. It’s saved me the time of rifling through Outlook and trying to string together different conversations.”

Survey Response A2: “Groovy is less intuitive than I was hoping for. Once I figured out how to get everything into one place, it got a little better, but I’m still learning the interface.”

For the sake of exercise, let’s say we’ve gotten several responses that generally correspond to these. The feedback is mixed as to how well Groovy does, but we gained insight into what appears to be a pivotal moment in these customers’ journeys: integration.

So with this in mind, we might retool the question for even deeper wisdom. We essentially want to ask the same thing as question A, but in a way that discerns more specific intelligence about how well Groovy accomplishes what customers perceive to be its critical task.

New Survey Question B: “How easy was it to integrate your existing client contacts into GroovyCRM?”

On and on we could go, reiterating the question until we have a finely tuned survey designed to tell us exactly what we need to know about the customer and the product.

3. Talk to Your Customer-Facing Employees

Thanks to big data, customer success is now a science. That’s great in a lot of ways, but in our search for scientific objectivity and measurable, analyzable results, we often miss solutions that don’t readily manifest themselves on a spreadsheet.

One of those solutions is talking, not to customers, but to the employees who interact with them most: sales associates and customer service representatives.

Guilty as charged? Here are some questions to ask:

  1. What are our customers’ common frustrations?
  2. What are the most common questions customers ask?
  3. What are some themes you hear pop up over and over on sales/service calls?
  4. In what unexpected ways do customers benefit from our product?
  5. How do customers perceive our value proposition?

As you survey your sales and support staff, listen for common phrases, buzzwords, and recurring themes. Use this information to refine both your product development and marketing efforts.

These employees are a goldmine of actionable insights. Tap them for all their worth.

4. Eavesdrop

No, I’m not suggesting you sneak into a customer’s home and bug their living room. I’m suggesting you use any of the 1,001 widely available social listening tools out there to hear what your customers say about your product.

The greatest benefit to eavesdropping is that you overhear your customers’ honest opinions about what they think of you and your products, free of the formal barriers that surveys often construct.

Here are some great places to start:

  • Google Alerts – Just log in, type in your brand or product name and set an alert to ping you every time Google picks up a new entry.
  • Twitter Search – For a real-time look at the grapevine, go to Twitter and search for conversations that mention your brand specifically.
  • Hootsuite – Tools like Hootsuite aggregate everything so you never miss a mention.

“What if I don’t come up with anything?”

If your social searches turn up empty, then this tells you something important: there is a lack of conversation surrounding your brand. If customers aren’t talking about you online, then you’re missing out on a huge marketing opportunity. Remedy that, post haste.

5. Conduct Exit Interviews

Jeffrey Hayzlett—an author, speaker, and TV host—once told a story about why he stopped flying with Delta after flying with them for hundreds of thousands of miles.

What happened when this uber-fan left Delta and “stopped climbing”? Nothing.

No phone calls. No goodbyes. No attempts to win him back.


Don’t be Delta. Don’t let your silence over a churned customer be an ex post facto validation of how little you valued their business. Instead, treat your losses as real losses. More than that, treat them as an opportunity to listen and learn.

When a customer walks away from you—whether as a straight refund or a slow churn—pick up the phone and reach out. You may not be able to turn the situation around, but a human conversation with that customer just might give you the insight you need to prevent the next customer from walking out on you as well.

In summary, we’ve looked at a number of tactics to help customer success managers listen more closely and more deeply to their customers. Take one or take them all.

What matters most is that you devise strategies and methods to probe deeply into your customers’ self-reported experiences and use those insights to make meaningful changes that drive future customer success.

Do you think I’ve left anything out? Leave a comment below.

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Kenny S.

Written by Kenny S.

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