Organizations are often very good at targeting customers, but we’re not always great at listening to them. And if you have a diverse customer base with diverse needs (needs you may not even have considered) then you may be missing out on opportunities to improve your service and become more successful.

As co-founder of Crowdicity, an open innovation platform, I’ve worked with many different organizations who want serve diverse customers. My advice is to follow these three steps:

1. Listen
The best organizations, and the best leaders, listen. This isn’t just about having a 24-hour customer services department. It’s about proactively creating opportunities to tune into what your customers need; you might create opportunities to listen through websites, social media channels or an open innovation platform such as Crowdicity.

In fact, one of Crowdicity’s first customers was the Dorset University Foundation Healthcare Trust. 

The CEO was frustrated by how much email was used throughout the organization, as this time could be better spent serving their customers—in their case, patients. So he posed the question to all staff: ‘How can we reduce the time we spend on email?’ A novel solution was put forward by a junior IT worker (somebody who would never ever have normally put her head above the parapet) and her idea was implemented shortly afterwards, increasing efficiency by significantly driving down the time spent on email.

The point is: the CEO would never have moved forward if he hadn’t created the opportunity to listen. And if you want to hear the breadth and depth of what your users are saying, then you have to have to treat listening as an active exercise, not a passive one.

2. Understand their needs
It’s very easy to turn customer engagement into a rubber-stamping exercise. Too often, you will hear managers rifle through customer feedback: “Yep. Yep. Done that. Doing that anyway.”

If you really want to understand your customers’ needs, you have to engage them constantly. A big part of the customer excellence team’s day at Crowdicity is spent proactively contacting customers to see how they’re getting on. Customers really appreciate this and often share insights that they wouldn’t normally take the time to share, if left unprompted. This constantly allows us to help them get the best out of the service we provide, optimizing their value for money and improving the likelihood that they’ll renew their contracts with us in the future.

As my friend, author and speaker, Ted Rubin, says, “Customer Service is one of the only times you have 100% of your customer’s attention. Don't waste the opportunity!”

Several years ago I was helping one of the software companies I’m invested in to find out how we could grow revenues. As part of this process I first wanted to know what customers felt about the service we offered, so I emailed all our customers with a short survey, including the following question:

Why do you enjoy using the software?

One bright spark replied…

I don’t enjoy using your software, but it is the cheapest on the market.

So, from one smart response I learned that I needed to improve my product and charge more for it!

3. Create a feedback loop
If you take the time understand the diversity of your customers, then you’ll be in a better position to find solutions that fulfil their needs. But, in my opinion, the secret to long-term success is to create a constant feedback loop where customers can continue to engage with you and are encouraged to do so. Whether you’re a train operator, run an ecommerce site or you’re an education provider, make sure that as you seek to improve your service, you’re also increasing the ease with which users can make themselves heard. A good way I’ve seen this referred to is ‘creating a frictionless customer experience.’

And the best part is: if you can create this constant cycle of listening, understanding and improving it will become a process that gets easier and more effective over time.

In this TEDx Talk I explain the phenomenon of how society is programmed not to listen to how products and services could be improved. I go on to give examples of how applying the crowdsourcing of ideas can drive significant customer service improvement in business, healthcare and public services.

The streetwise mba® is a programme for leaders who want to be more inclusive: to lead diverse teams, serve diverse customers and work with diverse stakeholders.