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When Customers Talk

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When Customers Talk

by T. Scott Gross and BIGresearch

Dearborn Trade © 2005, 207 pages, $18.95 (ISBN 0-7931-9519-5).

Listen and Learn to Improve Customer Service

In When Customers Talk, customer service expert T. Scott Gross explains that if you want to predict what your customers will want to buy tomorrow or next year, all you need to do is listen and learn. In an effort to hear what consumers have to say, Gross and the marketing research firm BIGresearch asked consumers to share their opinions; reveal their shopping habits; and describe their buying, saving and investing intentions. According to their findings, consumers are not impressed with the quality of products, and they think service is awful and trending worse.

To help companies anticipate customer needs and use emerging trends to their advantage, Gross describes how they can attract and retain profitable customers, effectively beat the competition and learn what they should do in the near future.

When Gross discusses customer service, he explains that it is not a logo on a sign outside a chain store. Service happens on the inside, and everyone is a player. Customers influence their own service by the way they behave and the stores they choose to shop. And bosses have a major impact on service quality by the way they hire and the way they lead. Although advertising might bring customers through the door, Gross adds, it is service that brings them back.

Online Panels and Surveys

In his own humorous yet extremely informative way, Gross begins When Customers Talk by describing the benefits of online panels, which have recently become better, faster and cheaper than ever before. The information they bring is also more abundant and much more flexible. Responses can be “cut” by geography, income, purchase size and any other options, and come in a matter of days rather than months. Online paneling also allows companies to integrate the voice of the customer into decisions in near real time. In addition, it can be used by small businesses to gain competitive advantage over larger rivals by providing intimate knowledge about how customers perceive a brand’s price and quality.

Next, Gross explains how an online survey and research tool called Consumer Intentions and Actions (CIA) can be used to reveal trends in consumer thinking. By asking people about their opinions and feelings about current events as well as what they intend to do in the future, Gross writes that the CIA is amazingly accurate because of the enormous size of the audience, which adds up to about 8,000 usable monthly responses.

One key tool for predicting future sales, Gross explains, is the migration index. To find out whether a consumer has made a conscious decision to change a primary retailer for another, BIGresearch asks consumers:

1. Where do you shop for X most often?

2. How long have you shopped there?

3. Where did you previously shop?

Gross explains that any owner or manager can ask these questions across the counter. The first question reveals the customer’s current favorite store for the category (X), the second question reveals whether the customer is a new or long-term customer, and the final question reveals who is losing.

How to Listen to Customers

When Gross describes how businesses should listen to their customers, he explains that the following five things have to happen:

1. Listen to the right voice (by asking the right customer).

2. Be a trusted listener.

3. Ask the right questions.

4. Make the correct interpretation.

After each of these things is accomplished, follow-up questions are essential: “Fail to ask the follow-up question, and you risk missing key data. Follow up until you have the data narrow enough to act on it.”

Engineer the Experience

Along with focusing on product, price, packaging and promotion, Gross writes that companies must not forget about the service experience. Customer service is the expression of your brand. Since a brand is an expectation, when consumers read or hear a product name, they conjure up an entire set of expectations that, if the brand is good, saves marketers time and money. Gross explains that failing to map out and plan the brand experience is the biggest service mistake brand owners make. To create a killer service experience, consider every point of contact so that each one works together to present a unified, congruent experience of the brand. ~

Why We Like ThIs Book

While providing a road map to improved customer service, When Customers Talk embodies the service principles it describes by communicating a clear interpretation of facts and stories directly to the reader with a personable touch. By adding the research methods and tools used by BIGresearch to his tips, Gross holds up his customer service lessons with a solid foundation of strong metrics. ~

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