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Are businesses listening to what customers don’t say?

Published February 22, 2024

CX leaders need to pay attention to the “silent signals” from unhappy customers who don’t raise their hands to voice their complaints.

Traditional customer feedback methods like surveys and reviews are a crucial first step to understanding customer sentiment, but they only go so far. Most dissatisfied customers remain voiceless. 

With customer feedback survey completion rates regularly in the single digits, CX leaders need to pay attention to the “silent signals” from unhappy customers who don’t raise their hands to voice their complaints. 

Missing these silent signals can have wide-ranging repercussions, starting with the lost value of customers. One in 3 will leave a brand they love after a single bad experience.

Traditional voice of customer methods aren’t enough

Most businesses collect customer feedback through direct methods like surveys, social media reviews, and other forms of customer listening like support call analysis.

This traditional VoC feedback is important, but just like the waterline of an iceberg, it’s just part of the picture. What most businesses can’t see is the majority of their unhappy customers beneath the waterline, many of whom will leave without voicing why. 

For every four customers who complain, 96 remain silent, according to the 2020 Achieving Customer Amazement study. Tapping into this silent majority’s perceptions will revolutionize how businesses listen to and understand customers and the insights they’ll come to as a result.

Strategies for hearing silent customer feedback

Major companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are exceptionally good at interpreting silent signals, using sophisticated algorithms to constantly refine experiences based on small changes in user behavior. 

With the ability to gather and analyze vast amounts of customer data with tools like AI-driven analytics, sentiment analysis and machine learning, they can detect subtle, yet critical signals across the customer journey.

By identifying patterns and correlations that humans might miss — from lower acquisition to changes in purchasing behavior, or decreased engagement — these companies are able to proactively anticipate customer needs and preferences, often addressing potential dissatisfaction before it arises.

But you don’t have to be an Amazon or Google to listen for silent feedback. By embracing a data- and technology-driven approach to hearing what silent customers aren’t saying, businesses of all sizes can unlock a deeper understanding of customer needs and more intelligently respond to them. 

Here are eight strategies to better listen to customers.

  1. Strengthen data analytics capabilities: Businesses can use advanced technologies to more effectively collect, process, analyze, and interpret data about how customers interact and transact with them. It’s important to focus on behavioral, transactional, and other operational data.
  2. Leverage social listening: Use monitoring tools to track mentions of your brand, products, and services across platforms. By analyzing recurring complaints, concerns, or even subtle changes in brand sentiment, you can uncover silent signals of dissatisfaction.
  3. Monitor digital customer behavior: Every mouse click, button tap and page visit tells a story, with each action capable of revealing customer behaviors and attitudes. Pay close attention to journey velocity and progression, where changes can indicate friction or disengagement.
  4. Implement ‘in product’ feedback loops: Embed tools within your products, services, and support environments that allow systematic collection and analysis of customer activities and actions, including things like usage data, interaction points, and journey progression.
  5. Activate predictive analytics: Predictive analytics and AI can help proactively identify issues and opportunities. By analyzing historical data against current activities, you can foresee customer needs, anticipate potential risks, and mitigate dissatisfaction and churn.
  6. Listen to human intuition: While data analytics does deliver valuable information, combining it with the human perspective and expert-led intuition can identify shifts in customer sentiment or emotional signals that algorithms might miss.
  7. Embrace continuous listening: All customers — silent or not — are constantly evolving. To stay ahead of their changing needs and expectations, invest in the organizational capability to consistently and systematically listen to and interpret complex customer behaviors and patterns.
  8. Take action: Listening isn’t enough. When you detect things like disengagement, increased cancelations, or reduced usage, take action. Issues like these don’t solve themselves, but you need insights to understand what’s happening and what you need to do to fix it.

Understanding and responding to these silent signals is crucial. Not only does it help prevent churn, it helps boost customer-centricity, informs continuous improvement, and drives greater innovation and customer loyalty.

This article was originally published on CX Dive.

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