BrainTrust Query: Listening to Your Customers in an Always-on, Always-Connected World

Dec 01, 2011

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Hanifin Loyalty blog.

"You are receiving this message because you sent me an email on either a Saturday or Sunday. Between Monday – Friday, we deliver good value to clients and generally outperform anyone we compete with. We also place high priority on our faith and our family and treasure eight hours of sleep on at least two nights per week. We value your relationship and will respond to your message bright and chipper on Monday morning."

That’s the out-of-office message that I have been considering placing on my inbox during the weekend. I imagine that its impact would be as divisive as Tim Tebow currently is in the NFL. Some would quietly close their laptop and feel liberated to spend more time with their family over the weekend. Others would perceive my message as self-righteous or think I had gone wacky.

There’s a bigger thought to be shared here. In an always-on, always-connected world that increasingly treats instant gratification as table stakes, it is becoming truly challenging to engage people with messages that require more than a glancing read. USA Today conditioned the populous to seek news in snippets and now video is in high demand as many don’t even want to read, they want to listen to a message while they sip coffee, check email, and update their to-do lists in Evernote.

If there was ever a time to replace activity and noise with transparency and trust, it is now.

I’m all for meeting deadlines, over-delivering and breaking new ground. That’s not in question here. What is becoming a nasty little habit for many business people is buying into the notion that we have to be everywhere, communicate in every channel and never slow the cadence enough to hear what’s around us.

The noise we just might be missing is the voice of our clients and our customers. Marketers need to listen more, temper the cadence of communications and make a greater impact with fewer impressions. I don’t want another solicitation letter from Southwest Airlines offering me their co-branded credit card. I have already put one per month in the shredder for the past 12 months. I do want to receive just one survey asking me about my favorite destinations, my hobbies and my opinion about what could improve their cabin service. That would make me feel more like they care about me and, depending on what they did with my survey response, would influence my next choice of airline.

You probably won’t see that out-of-office message from me any time soon. My smartphone represents too great a temptation to respond to emails in the moment and my natural desire to serve those who trust me makes clamming up until Monday just a quaint thought.

Discussion Questions: Is periodically turning off beneficial for companies as well as people? How do you personally manage the “always-on, always-connected” temptation?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

11 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Listening to Your Customers in an Always-on, Always-Connected World"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Heckman
10 years 5 months ago

While technology facilitates a 24/7 connection to customers and clients, businesses and individuals should establish “rules of engagement” that prevents important time for family and spirituality from becoming collateral damage from business activities. Larger companies have an advantage of having shifts of people available in customer service mode around the clock, everyday. Smaller firms and individual consultants (like myself), not so much. But in every case, large or small, rules should be established and communicated clearly both internally and to the customer so that inflated expectations do not lead to disappointment!

Dan Frechtling
10 years 5 months ago

I agree with Bill and then some. It’s not just marketers who need to listen more. Anyone seeking to innovate needs to liberate himself or herself from always-on communication habits.

Inventors who disrupt markets start by paying attention. As Steve Jobs famously said, “Creativity is just connecting dots.” Clayton Christensen and others found in an 8-year study of game-changers a pattern of discovery skills:

1. Associating: drawing connections between unrelated ideas
2. Questioning: challenging common wisdom
3. Observing: watching customers to identify new ways of doing things
4. Networking: meeting people with different perspectives

When I have to think about work over the weekend, I try the above. There’s a great temptation to use Saturday and Sunday to catch up on email. But in our industry, walking into a store is a better way to come up with disruptive ideas.

When I can’t take the weekend off, I try to reflect rather than react.

Ian Percy
10 years 5 months ago

No temptation here! I can’t think of ANYONE I want to be attached to 24/7/365. Not even Halle Berry! OK — bad example. But somehow since the beginning of time we survived without this constant intrusion and analysis. Ask yourself what value you really get (other than bragging rights among others who have sold their soul) from trying to always be in touch with your customers.

Warren Thayer
10 years 5 months ago

As one who has never totally “turned on” to all this in the first place, it’s pretty simple and I really enjoy actually talking to real people on the phone or in person. And when I just don’t feel like talking, I ignore ringing phones and let them go to phone mail. What’s wrong with that, anyway? I manage any personal temptation to joining the “always-on, always connected” disease by remaining colossally stupid and phobic when it comes to learning how to use blueberries, Androids and, well, whatever. Luddites, unite! Pardon me, it’s time to go walk the dogs in the woods, sans my antique digital phone that can’t even track asteroid trajectories.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
10 years 5 months ago

In the words of Mozart, “My pauses are often the best parts of my music.” We have become a reactive society with too much responding without pausing to consider an appropriate response. The challenge is to manage your time versus having technology manage you. Technology should be a tool, not a master. I suggest we begin by allocating time to be connected versus being always on. Being always on is equivalent to looking into your USPS mailbox every five minutes to see if the postal carrier has delivered today’s mail.

Marge Laney
10 years 5 months ago

Should you be always on and always connected? I think that’s driven by the business you’re in, what your customer’s demand, and how successful you want to be.

If your customers are on when you prefer to be off, I would suggest that you do something else with your life because if you don’t, your customers will do it for you.

Ryan Mathews
10 years 5 months ago
Turning off is good for (non-neurotic) people but it’s probably a terrible idea for most companies. True, if you are engaging the services of a sage like say Bill here you may respect his right to recharge the source of inspiration. If, on the other hand, you are dealing with ABC Conglomerate, you probably want to be able to reach them 24/7. The answer to the second question seems to me be generational. While Warren cherishes his Luddite life in the woods and Ian feels liberated by spurning poor Halle — at least on occasion — I suspect 20 somethings and younger would have a hard time separating their digital and physical lives. Take Facebook, for example, where many younger users seem to feel compelled to document their entire lives — parties and embarrassing moments included. Not really sure how those party pictures of one being half dressed and clearly intoxicated will play out in 30 years — but that doesn’t seem to be a issue at the moment. Or, take Foursquare. Do I really… Read more »
Anne Howe
10 years 5 months ago
Being a solo consultant, it’s hard to unplug. But, having just spent a week on vacation, it can be done. Yes, I had to do some work, and it was intense work (interpreting what IDEO did for a client, no less). But, I firmly believe the reason I had some breakthrough moments in that project is because I unplugged. Happily, I was in an environment where twice daily walks on the beach (with a grand-doggy) and a few rounds of golf allowed my mind to do its work without distraction of the barrage of communications I typically deal with day in and day out. Vacations aside, rules should in place for some down time, to allow our brains to ponder and reflect and make sense of the inputs. Too many inputs with no time to freely process creates what I call jumbled up file drawers in the brain. If we are to add value to an industry, we must have freedom to imagine change, and create future scenarios. And then, we can apply discipline to… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
10 years 5 months ago

In a global digital world, companies must be engaged 24/7. That does not mean the same person has to be engaged 24/7 or that the company needs to send messages 24/7. Listening (or reading) consumer comments 24/7 is necessary. Beyond reading or listening, companies need to gather and analyze what they hear: which comments come from which consumers? In response to what prompts? In which situations? What are the opinions, trends, and relevant information?

Rather than spitting out messages constantly to every possible target (like the Southwest example by Ryan), companies with the right message at the right time to the right people can have great impact.

Ralph Jacobson
10 years 5 months ago

“Always on” doesn’t have to mean, “Always pushing out messages.” Just always be available to your audience. Send pithy, valuable and appropriate messages, in a as-needed fashion, and don’t feel compelled to barrage your customers with communications.

Bill Hanifin
10 years 5 months ago

After reading the comments on this topic I am encouraged that I’m not alone in feeling a need to recharge and, more importantly, to draw a line occasionally between business and personal life.

One observation I have to make is that “clients” (those that work with the big brands we serve) take holidays, disappear for 2 weeks, go to offsite planning meetings, and defer schedules as a result. The reality is that most of us commenting on this topic have chosen a business model that requires us to be on-call and on-target. The balance in setting calendar preferences will always be with the client.

My greater concern is that we set aside time to gather thoughts in order to deliver the ground breaking ideas that serve our clients well. That’s what they pay us for and we need time “in the margin” to create and provide thought leadership.


Take Our Instant Poll

Has the ’activity and noise’ that comes with the digital world made customer engagement more complicated or easier?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...