Big brands are digging into negative consumer feedback to uncover challenges to their status quo and make valuable adjustments to their business. While many business owners cringe at the notion of engaging their biggest critics, you can learn a lot from the proverbial squeaky wheels.
Venture into the unfettered side of the Internet
"Don't you want to know what people think and feel?" asks George Faulkner, Global Lead of Social Brand Marketing & Communications at IBM. "A healthy brand should want to know the good, bad, and the ugly. I can't survive without including Reddit in my routine. I'm going to the Wild West of the Internet. What happened last night? I like the unfettered side of the social web."
It's not just the customers you should be listening to. What about your employees? How do they feel about working for your company? You may very well be disappointed when you find out. In a 2016 poll, Gallup found that 70 percent of employees are either not engaged at work or worse, actively disengaged. That includes managers, professionals, and lower-level employees.
Encourage employee complaints
"Employees have a 'put your head down and don't complain attitude'," says Charlene Li, Principal Analyst and Founder of Altimeter and author of the New York Times best-seller Open Leadership. "Put yourself out there. Know what's happening. Hear the complaints. If the barn door is open, the horses are everywhere."
One company that has had positive results raising employee satisfaction is eBay.
"All of our employees are brand advocates." says Rebecca Dishotsky, eBay's Senior Director of Employee Communications. "They express themselves, bring their whole selves to work. The emerging workforce cares more about this than ever before. If they don't like the corporate culture, they don't hesitate to leave."
Create internal champions
eBay recently launched a social media exercise that engaged and entertained employees and helped build community. The concept was rooted in eBay's business motto: People go on eBay to find the perfect thing, at the perfect price. "Everyone has their version of perfect," is a core eBay brand belief. As Dishotsky puts it, "We are here to power consumer passion and enthusiasm."
To ignite brand advocacy externally, eBay set out to amplify their brand internally to with an ingenious exercise designed to remind employees that they are the eBay customer. The internal exercise, "Share Your Perfect," provided employees with a custom online tool that allowed them to photograph their "perfect," describe it in their own words, and share that vision of perfection on Facebook.
Dishotsky added, "We are creating brand champions inside the company."
Develop a customer advisory board
While all business owners may not have the same amount of employees, marketing budget or research spending capabilities as eBay, there are other ways to identify employee and customer pain points. For instance, creating a customer advisory board can be very effective.
Chasing after dissatisfied customers is often worthwhile. According to Trackur, a social media monitoring firm, 96 percent of unhappy customers won't complain to you. Instead, they'll share their disappointment with 15 friends - and maybe post it on social media.
While you're at it, talk to a satisfied customer too. Ask them what they like about your company. It is important to understand the relationship from both sides.
Use your network
Another important source of actionable feedback is your network, both inside your company and out. "We need a robust network because these are the people who are honest with us, keep us fresh," notes branding expert Dorie Clark. "People who are the most indispensable are the hubs at the center of the network. They bridge cultural gaps and help a business combat the tendency to get more silo'd over time."
Clark also recommends connecting people who should be talking to each other. Be strategic and talk to people you don't normally talk to. You will have heard about ideas and best practices, what's been tried and worked, or failed, etc. Good old fashioned networking isn't just a good source of business intelligence, advice, and new perspectives for your brand, it helps build your personal brand too.
As Clark reminds us, "You are judged by the company you keep. If the experts in your field have never heard of you, it's hard to legitimately claim expert status."
No matter whom you're listening to - your customers, your employees, your colleagues and friends - a different perspective on your business is always valuable. It will make you a better manager, and more empathetic leader.