Listening at PRINZ conference 2019

Posted by Jackie Russell

Listening doesn’t come easy to a chatterbox, but it is a skill we strive to improve.

At the PRINZ conference 2019 the prevailing theme was changing mindsets, and rather than focusing on our target audiences’ mindsets – the message was more about reviewing our own mindsets.

What do we all continue to think, say and perpetuate because we don’t really listen to others?

Undoubtedly, internet and social media algorithms contribute to our deafness to different perspectives, but this no different from the bias mainstream media editors have wielded for years.

As a PR and marketing professional, listening to target audiences should be my first consideration but it’s easy to get over-excited about an idea or message, and leap into action too quickly.

So, I’m working on opening my ears and closing my mouth.

Listening is good but is anyone talking?

My dilemma is, in a world where people are asked to review every customer experience from their last trip to an airport toilet to their customer service conversation with a telco – how do we get people to talk?

We are survey weary.

Perhaps our lack of enthusiasm to tick survey boxes is because we think nothing much will change when we give feedback on an experience.

The cynic in me wonders how many organisations ask questions just to let people vent their grievance, and the business thinks their client feedback job is done.

People need to regain trust before they will speak

To regain customer and client trust, we all need to be transparent and ask for their feedback when we genuinely plan to do something with the information.

Too many businesses have conned people, pretending they are conducting a survey and transform the conversation into a sales pitch. They have a lot to answer for.

Sugging (selling under the guise of research) really is a thing and it has been around since at least when I studied at university in the 1980s.

We should treat everyone’s time with respect and recognise that when they give time to us – we must value their finite resource.

Tips to motivate people to talk and share their thoughts

  • Explain why you value their opinion – in plain language, not corporate babble.
  • Offer a prize for participation.
  • Use a communication method that works for them, rather than you, e.g. online survey, face-to-face individual or group conversations.
  • Keep results and reports anonymous so people are more likely to speak freely.
  • Keep it short and sweet.
  • Use language and facilitators that appeal to the target audience.
  • Send reminders about deadlines and interview appointments.
  • Provide food – yes this makes a difference!

Be aware that people who are extremely grumpy or outrageously happy with an organisation are often more likely to respond to your questions, creating bias in results.

If you ask – be prepared to act

Before embarking on any listening exercise or research consider what elements of your business model you can really change.

I’m always prepared for unexpected information and results that could challenge organisations in ways no-one anticipated, especially when business leaders are somewhat distant from their clients.

Every question asked needs to lead towards an action.

Have you seen those buttons you can hit at security at Auckland Airport that ask you give your bag search experience a smiley, sad or neutral face?

Have you received an email that asks you how likely you would be to refer a company to your mates?

What will these companies do with the information they collect? The results are meaningless.

If you select the grumpy face for the airport security experience what can they change to improve their service?

They have no idea why you are grumpy and will base any action on a whole lot of assumptions, which is potentially a costly mistake and you still may not receive the experience that makes you happy.

I suspect the smiley face clicking is more about letting people vent their frustration than wanting to hear their feedback. After all, it is a security process and maybe grumpy people just need to suck it up.

And, that referral question we are frequently asked – what do organisations do with that?

They have no idea why you would or wouldn’t refer them and can’t take any action in response to your feedback.

I’ve listened to people who say they wouldn’t refer a company just because their mates would never ask them about the organisation. Their response is no reflection of the company’s service or product quality.

Just don’t answer these time-wasting questions.

If you are really listening, you need to actively listen – even in a survey.

For example, if the airport security smiley face gadget responded to us and asked one more question it would give them useful information.

You select: Smiley face        Next question: Wow – what made your experience so good?

You select: Neutral face       Next question: OK – what could have done better?

You select: Sad face            Next question: Yikes – what did we do wrong?

I’m pretty sure artificial intelligence technology could master this information collection and analysis in a flash.

You get the picture. We need to ask for more information to truly listen and understand those around us who see things differently.

Active listening is a Chatterbox PR goal.

Prove you were listening

To encourage people to speak more frequently, we need to show them the changes that resulted from their feedback.

Something as simple as saying, “You asked for it and we have delivered it” could be all that is needed to make people feel their feedback was worthwhile.

What ever you do, make sure you do something positive to genuinely communicate with your target audience.

Make the action something that benefits them and builds their faith in your organisation.

Make the action with integrity.

Make the action that makes you feel good.


If you want help listening to your audience contact Jackie at Chatterbox PR and let us work together to hear more clearly.