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A framework for customer listening tools

I don’t believe anyone has the definitive answer on how social media is changing the way we listen to customers, but it’s clear that more tools are quickly emerging. In preparation for a presentation at our recent Walker Fall Forum, I began to consider a way to sort out the various uses, applications, and pros and cons of these tools. Without a place to start, what is one to do? Easy — do what any wise consultant would do. Draw a two-by-two chart!

That’s what I did. And I invited colleagues Leslie Pagel and Jeff Wiggington to collaborate with me.

After some deliberation, here is what we developed as a starting point. A brief description is below.

Content. Traditional methods (surveys, verbatim comments, customer advocacy boards, and online customer panels) are included along with emerging social media tools (private communities, public communities, social networks, blogs and micro blogs).

Control. Plotted on the horizontal axis is the degree of control customer strategists have over the feedback they receive. For instance, surveys provide a lot of control because you’re the one asking all the questions. In contrast, you hand over virtually all control in the feedback you receive from micro blogs.

Influence. The vertical axis shows the degree of influence customer insights would typically carry from each source. Customer advisory boards and surveys tend to carry a lot of weight while many are skeptical of customer insights delivered through micro blogs.

Engagement. The size of each circle represents the level of engagement of each tool. For instance, customer surveys aren’t terribly engaging – you ask questions and you get responses. However, communities and social networks are very engaging and can produce different types of customer insights.

The Goal. The goal for customer strategists is to get the most out of each tool so that it rises in the level of influence it carries. There are strengths and shortcomings to each, so we should look for ways to use each tool in ways that produce the richest, most relevant insights to drive your business. 

What do you think?

Are the characteristics relevant for customer listening programs? Are the right tools listed for developing a customer relationship strategy? What is missing?

Comments encouraged!

About the Author

Patrick Gibbons

Patrick Gibbons

As Principal and Senior Vice President of Marketing for Walker, Gibbons has global responsibility for definition, branding, and promotion of the company and its solutions. Gibbons has published and/or contributed to a number of articles, papers, and blogs on customer intelligence topics and has a regular column in CRM Magazine. He has been a featured speaker at a wide range of conferences, and has produced a series of educational events for customer experience leaders.

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0 thoughts on “A framework for customer listening tools

  1. Curious – when you mention blogs and social networks are those corporate blogs and communities or just any corporate community? Blog influence has been up continuously over the last few years – mostly due to the explosive growth of search and corporate blogging.

    I’d like to hear more on how you determined the influence side of the scale.

  2. Good thoughts Doug. In this context I’m thinking of these items in the broadest context. Naturally some are going to be managed in ways that carry more or less influence. From your input, I can see how blogs might be higher on the influence scale. Also, keep in mind that the goal is to manage each in a way that the influence moves up.

  3. My feeling is that socil networks and microblogging do not have the influence they deserve because the market research community are scare of what they will find there. I believe that the uncontrolled environment will lead to more honest opinions being expressed, and these should be considered by the corporation. I refer you to the current discussion taking place in the NewMR group on LinkedIn for more on this.

  4. I think there are a couple of points to keep in mind:
    1)The amount of influence can vary depending on the company. For example, I suspect the Nike Plus community has a great deal of influence on Nike’s decisions regarding running apparel.
    2)The level of control is not intended to suggest that more control is better.
    3)It is important for companies to understand the level of customer participation and whether or not that participation is representative of a specific audience. It would be unfortunate to base decisions on feedback that is not reflective of a broader audience.

    Jeremiah Owyang recently wrote a blog about the Eight Stages of Listening ( It could be interesting to try to map the tools and stages together. His post mentions several tools that that can be used on the back-end to leverage these various listening posts.

  5. Good thoughts. I’m not sure if the MR community is scared, but I do think they like control. As Nigel suggests, honest opinions may come from the vehicles with less control, suggesting that a balance of inputs may be good. Managing these so that they all have high influence is the tough part.

  6. How about defining your questions and testing your assumptions with the assistance of twitter, and testing your conclusions through social media?

  7. Nigel – I think that is a great application for social media, if your audience participates in those social media channels. I’m a little skeptical because many statistics suggest that the majority of people don’t post/contribute online. They primarily play a spectator role. See Forrester Social Technographics Profile for one view of online participation.

  8. This is true, but with the active poputation of twitter continuing to grow, certainly for some sections of the population, eg affluent, tech savvy, twitter is becoming a must. I believe it is becoming an essential part of the communications tool kit.

  9. I like it, Pat & Leslie! Very clever way of showcasing all these techniques. I think Surveys has lower influence than you show — near the middle. Bringing the average influence down are lots of transactional surveys in the mix.

  10. Patrick,

    Finally got a chance to make it over here and express my opinion, been hectic but recovering.

    I am either very confused, or very wrong in my beliefs. Are you saying that the insights from a survey are more influential than the ones from un-controlled sources like blogging (even micro-blogging service like Twitter) and Communities?

    And if you are saying that, is the influence being exerted on executives and others within the company, or to other customers?

    If you can answer those, I’d be happy to expand into my response. Want to make sure I am getting the whole story — the feedback can go both ways, very different ways, depending on the answer to those questions.

    Many Thanks

  11. Esteban,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’ll see if I can address your issues.

    The vertical axis of “influence” represents how much weight these items carry within organization with the executives and other stakeholders that put customer insights to use. At the current time I believe that an executive or manager is more likely to take action on information from a relationship survey than from some of the other sources. For instance, if a study was conducted that revealed 64% don’t like a new version of software, it may carry more weight than a tweet, a blog, or a community discussion.

    A few caveats:

    – First, it “may” carry more weight. Naturally it depends on the source. If the blogger is a key reviewer, then executives may scramble. If it is a random tweet, they will likely question the contributor’s credibility. It is a blessing and curse of social media – all can join in.

    – Second, all surveys are not equal – they do not all have a high level of influence. One commenter correctly pointed out that transaction surveys may have less influence.

    – Third, should they have more influence? Not necessarily. I just think that currently there are many that still question the reliability of social media sources. They are not yet comfortable using these sources to make customer-focused decisions.

    One important distinction is that the graph is not intended to place these in a location and leave them there. In fact, the goal is for organizations to use all these sources in productive ways so that they ALL have strong influence. This may be my view of today’s snapshot, but I hope organizations deploy programs so that it moves quickly.

    Final caveat — it is just a first shot to prompt a little discussion. I’m grateful to you and others that have chimed in.

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