Critical Activities is a business that has honed the art of listening to customers to help its clients drive growth. Working with businesses ranging from privately owned to FTSE 250 blue-chip companies, its unique approach helps firms to view their business through the lens of a customer, providing them with the insights and knowledge to achieve customer excellence and drive impressive results.
We sat down with founder, John Jeffrey, to understand the value of true customer insight. We asked him how Critical Activities works with its clients to give them the information they need to deliver customer service improvements, increased customer loyalty, enhanced team effectiveness and ultimately, an improved bottom line.
John, tell us about why you decided to launch a business devoted to customer listening?
Having spent a sizable portion of my career managing businesses, alongside training and coaching business leaders, I noticed there was often a missing piece in the conversation – the customer perspective.
This became particularly evident when I was asked to conduct a customer listening exercise for a company where I had previously been a director. The results were staggering – and I soon realised I had learned more about the business in four weeks than I had in 15 years as a director.
From there, Critical Activities was born – and we’ve been working with a wide range of businesses ever since, to enhance their understanding of their customer base and achieve tangible growth by ensuring the voice of the customer is being heard, and used, right across the company.
Surely most businesses are already listening to their customers. What are you doing differently?
You’re right; it’s not a revolutionary approach. You’re essentially asking open-ended questions and listening in a structured way, but it’s amazing how few companies take the time to pause and really listen to their customers, and even fewer who then use those insights to drive behaviour within their businesses.
As an independent Voice of the Customer specialist, I work with clients to gather customer intelligence, revealing crucial insights that often become the bedrock of client success.
Our method involves asking questions that can be as straightforward as ‘what’s going well?’ or ‘what could be better?’. Then, once we’ve gathered enough narrative data from customers, we set about separating the signal from the noise – finding the key themes or nuggets of insight and distilling them down into something actionable.
Typically, who makes the most out of the insights you gather?
Once we’ve gathered the findings, there are five key audiences we’ve identified within a business that can really benefit from, and make use of, this information.
These include customer-facing teams, teams that are focused on product and proposition, commercial teams, marketing teams and finally the leadership or executive team.
For example, for marketing teams there’s something particularly powerful about understanding the drivers and key motivators behind the customer’s decision to purchase a product or use a service. Teams can then translate these insights to create truly effective marketing campaigns that talk to customers in a language that resonates with them – because it’s their own.
For commercial teams, customer insight can help to uncover a deeper level of understanding into the buyer journey; not just why a customer is choosing to purchase a product or service, but what led them to that decision in the first place and what problem it is solving for them. This provides the sales team with more understanding and credibility, alongside increasing their chance of success of converting opportunities.
For leadership teams, time and again, I’ve seen business leaders who, by simply engaging with their customer base in a more purposeful and structured way, have had ‘eureka’ moments that later saved them years in marketing intelligence and strategy development – not to mention the resulting improvements to business performance and customer satisfaction.
The power of the customer’s voice is considerable, and by inviting customers to be a source of feedback and advice, businesses can feel confident their models are based on what their customers actually need and want. This brings confidence into the boardroom, with leaders implementing strategies that are rooted in the real world, bringing companies closer to their customers and providing tangible growth results.
Clearly, different parts of a business benefit from and implement customer insight in distinct ways, from how they answer the phone and market the company through to the pricing strategy and proposition. The key thing is that the insights should be made available to teams right across the company – from the boardroom to the teams on the frontline. To maintain sustainable growth, it’s important that the whole business has an understanding of their customers and the part they play in the customer journey.
What practical steps can businesses take to start actively listening to their customers to drive change?
I’d start by asking your customer base, either in person or via an online interview, a few simple open questions about your business or proposition, such as: What is going well? What could have been better? What could be better in the future? What is bothering you the most? How satisfied are you? How likely are you to use us again in the future? This will start the conversation and allow you to dig deeper into your customer’s needs and motives for working with you.
I would advise asking a statistically significant sample of your customer base. Critical Activities will typically have 25-40 conversations with customers on behalf of our B2B clients, to ensure the insights you gather are both meaningful and representative. Dedicating enough time to this exercise is key. The customer conversations will typically be 25-35 minutes.
For B2C businesses with large customer bases, this approach may not work as it would be too time-consuming. However, the principle of proactively asking your customers for feedback is just as relevant and important – I have seen online surveys and tools such as NPS be useful in this regard.
The next step is then drawing out the key themes from the qualitative feedback, followed by producing action plans that address and factor in the insights that you’ve gathered. At Critical Activities, we have developed software that helps to identify the themes from the narrative in a quick and efficient way. However, it can be done internally within your business if you have the time and resources.
Finally, I’d recommend repeating the process every 12 to 18 months to make sure you remain in tune with your customers and continue to grow your business effectively.
To learn more about Critical Activities, visit: http://www.critical-activities.com/
If you would like to know more about how we work with our portfolio businesses on value creation, get in touch.