Listening vs. Hearing and Why Knowing Difference is Mission Critical

Listening vs. Hearing and Why Knowing Difference is Mission Critical

By Peter Bernstein March 29, 2017 1 Comments
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Listening vs. Hearing and Why Knowing Difference is Mission Critical by Peter Bernstein

For several decades the benefits of Universal Communications (UC) products and services to enterprises of all sizes and locations have fallen into two primary buckets:

  • Internal and Ecosystem (suppliers, contractors, channel partners, etc.): enabling people and business processes to be more efficient and effective and speeding decision making.
  • External/Customer Facing: providing customers the ability to interact according to their increasingly diverse preferences. These include voice, SMS, text, chat, social media, video mostly in real-time but also time-shifted as well.

The first bullet is truly “mission critical.” However, the focus here is on the equally important second point. The reason is the evolving shift in emphasis in the use of jargon to describe the technologies employed for real-time multimedia interactions of all types as well as the description relating to the proper use of technology in customer engagements, broadly defined.

Indeed, when it comes to interactions with customers, and now all aspects of what is commonly known as “the customer journey,” understanding the differences between what the technology is and can do versus how it impacts business success by creating user experiences that are compelling and entice us to want more from the same vendor is much more than mere semantics. And, the biggest thing that IT professionals, customer interaction center administrators (formerly known as call centers) and C-levels across enterprises need to understand is the difference between Listening and Hearing

The difference between listening and hearing is important.  

Listening involves having the technology in place (commonly called omnichannel tools) to enable customers to interact according to their interaction preferences. Adding “context” to the mix and sophisticated capabilities such as expert routing and speech analytics, means enterprises now have the tools to take any inquiry, regardless of how received, document the interactions and analyze them in terms of building more perfect individual customer profiles. 

In short, what the move from just multi-channel to omnichannel has done is increase the ability to better listen to customer facing interaction. It has also to the extent possible increased responsiveness to customer inquiries. This is why so much attention is paid to key performance indicators (KPIs) such as time in queue, mean time to resolution and other metrics surrounding how well and how fast a customer is deemed satisfied. This is all necessary as table stakes in a 24/7/365 world where unsatisfactory experiences can have major repercussions to brands in an instant. On its face it appears to address operational efficiency and customer interaction effectiveness. But, does it really?

Hearing, on the other hand, takes things to the next level. It also involves some rethinking about what the correct metrics are for determining success. Hearing is all about once customers are listened to individually and/or in aggregate, have business practices and processes been altered in response to issues raised? If so, are KPIs now in place to properly measure the impact of any changes made? Hearing is something empowered people with the right tools at the right time do.  FAQs, community bulletin boards, and even remote diagnostics only go so far.

The challenge today is while many enterprises have become more adept at listening to the “Voice of the Customer,” there is a long way to go on the hearing front. I say this based on my 10 interactions with contact centers in the past few months. I have been forced to ask for a supervisor seven times. Note. Yes, I keep count. Yes, I know from looking at analyst reports that unfortunately I am not alone.

Since my problems have not been unique, one would have thought that smart processes, particularly in instances where word spotting is used in real-time and it is easy to do post mortems on all interactions since they are analyzed and stored, would enable smart people to obviate the need for me and you to ask for additional help. 

What enterprises need to understand is that my time is valuable, and I am not talking about hold times and interacting with IVRs with nine options. I am referring to being supposedly directed to a place where I can have my issue taken care of. Plus, and this is a pet peeve, I am exasperated every time I actually talk to someone and they say “I am sorry.” I always say, “I know you are sorry but what I need you to do is change your behavior and solve my problem.”

It is this need to change behavior that is at the heart of the matter. We as customers should not have to contact a company three or four times to find somebody who has all of the information they need about our issue and the discretion to solve our problem. 

A tell should come from taking the context of an unsuccessful call and changing how such interactions are handled in the future. For example, tone of voice needs to be understood and not just words spoken. There is a huge difference between saying, “can I please speak to a supervisor” vs. “get me your supervisor right now since you are useless!” It is why enhanced voice recognition and sophisticated analytics are moving into the “must have” part of tool kits and need to be finely tuned. 

In the bad old days before the Internet, call centers were created so executives did not have to speak with customers. They were viewed as necessary loss leaders. With the customer experience now stated along with security as priority #1, just read any company annual report, customer interaction centers are now viewed as critical data hubs for tracking and influencing the customer journey as well as the front lines of brand stewardship. This entails putting a premium on having the ability to listen to “E”verything and on ensuring customer facing people have the training and discretion to act decisively along with quickly.     
To quote the old Verizon Wireless ad, “Can you hear me now!” If you fail to hear you do so at your own peril.


1 Responses to "Listening vs. Hearing and Why Knowing Difference is Mission Critical" - Add Yours

Alan MacLeod 4/4/2017 5:49:57 AM

The ability of individuals in customer service roles to provide excellent customer service is being, or appears to be, eroded by their employers. And yet all the surveys I am asked to complete about my support call focus not on the outcome of the service call, but on the person performing the customer service - KPI, yes, but wrong KPI. Most service people I deal with are pleasant, professional and at least convince me that they want to help - typically they cannot because the information is not available to them, or they need to escalate, or more often, the company simply doesn't care to address the problem - they have my money already, and their competition is just as lame, and we both know it.

Of course, we're in the midst of a paradigm shift in the move to chatbots, where the chatbot can superficially pass the Turing test. However I suspect that this is just the next step in moving away from customer service to pacification of customers at minimum cost to the service company. Because it doesn't matter, as so few companies really care about delighting their customers, compared to the short term delight of their shareholders and their bank balances.

Customer service is long term customer satisfaction, and thus revenue and profit - its not how many companies appear to be being measured today.

"Can you hear me now?" as was, which is more like "Are you listening to me now?" today, will become "Are you there now?". And it probably won't matter, as no one is stepping up...

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