Most businesses are great at talking at customers, but crap at listening. Conversations with your customers give you valuable information and builds intimacy. Your existing “talking at customers” channels can be adapted to start conversations.

The web:

Do you let people comment on your web pages?

Do you use blogs, user forums, and discussion groups on your website? They are great to encourage customers to talk to you and each other. They do require you drop the corporate act and be real though.

Do you encourage people to write to you? To give you feedback? To rate something? Or even to complain?

Do you openly show customer feedback, both good and bad? Bad feedback, treated with understanding, honesty and realness, is mint.

Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants their feedback to be acknowledged.

People who complain mostly want an acknowledgement of their hurt. Say sorry, explain why, and they can turn into loyal customers overnight.

Brochures and printed material:

Beware your tone of voice lest it becomes too “I will tell you how to think”.

Always include a comment form, or a link to an online comment form.

Design forms to capture freeform feedback. Overly structured, long, or input-constrained (too few or restrictive choices) forms can be hard to use.

Customer-facing people:

Are your people given the permission to listen to, and the authority to respond appropriately to customers? Are they trained to listen?

Is there an overwhelming mandate to process as many transactions (versus engage with people) in the shortest time possible?

Do you, as management, have regular real conversations regularly with your people? Do you practice “do as I do” or “do what I tell your to”?

Review all your customer contact processes in terms of conversations.

Are you talking at customers or listening to them? Are you enabling conversations where at all possible?

Reminder: merely saying you listen, without doing anything about it, is lying.