Do you really need a Chief Listening Officer?

I thought I’d be a bit controversial this week and question some of the latest buzz I’ve been reading about companies like Dell and Kodak that have now hired a Chief Listening Officer. They are finding that the role requires a lot of data mining to direct all the customer reviews and posts to the right people within their organisations so that they can act upon them.

There are those such as David Polinchock questioning why the customer service department and marketing teams are not already reviewing and listening to their customer feedback. To quote Susan Beebe Chief Listener at Dell who quickly responded to David’s challenge “It’s important to not only “listen” but prioritize and disseminate that information back to the relevant business lines so they can take action on the information.” The case for a Chief Social Media Officer is also well argued by Jennifer Leggio who rightly explains that if you are serious about social media it needs to be a cross functional team effort that includes not only your marketing department but includes customer service and your operations people. I would also argue that it needs support from the board to get the changes rolled out, that the business needs, when the going gets tough.

I think the question is more about “Are you ready to change your processes and business to focus on the customer and is the culture of your company conducive to active listening? Maybe Forbes.com got it right when they said that “Every CEO must a Chief Listening Officer” quoting the leading example of AG Lafley who retired from Proctor and Gamble in 2008. Nancy Kline also wrote a helpful book with some good tips on listening called “Time to Think” which would benefit those organisations that still have meetings where people compete to get a word in.

So many organisations have organised information and processes in silos which make no sense to the end customer. They have not built a customer focus into how they do business so the customer needs or issues do not feature in their team meetings. In any large organisation it’s not a quick fix to turn around a culture so it’s focused on the customer. There are normally battles to be done with shareholders who want profits first and foremost and do not always understand the direct correlation between profit and customer satisfaction.

A very recent example of the silo mentality springs to mind. This evening as I checked into my hotel I asked the front desk clerk if she can put me in a room away from the road. She admitted that she did not know the hotel layout and had no access to a hotel map so was initially unable to confirm whether the room I was checked into was next to the road. It’s likely that someone in the hotel had a map of the hotel layout but not the person who really needs it to help the end customer. However I’ve completed two questionnaires from my previous hotel stays here and they have now pre completed the registration form as recommended to save me some time on arrival so there’s some listening going on here. My hope is that one day the front desk staff will welcome me back which will be a big step towards a customer driven relationship. This has only once happened to me at a large hotel in Australia that I went to a few times on business. It blew me away as it was so unexpected.

Do you have any recent customer experiences that show you were dealing with a listening organisation and do you think the idea of a Chief Listening Officer will catch on in the UK?

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