“Have patience, the sun will return… Midsummer Night’s Dream will be performed again. We will be able to meet and hug each other again”, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands said in his Christmas speech. He gave his audience a message of hope for the future.

It is good to look ahead. Although, if you forget the past, you might lose the future. As a CX professional, you know how important it is to look back when you aim for a better future. You are curious to know what is your customer’s pain, you analyse the root cause, learn from it, and make improvements.

When you look back at last year, the first thing you will see is the Covid-19 pandemic. We are actually in the middle of it, as the numbers of new cases, confirmed cases, and deaths are still rising.

The good news is, many countries have started vaccinating their citizens.

Further on, you will find more good news for a brighter future. And you can play a vital role in it.

Social Unrest

This pandemic is new to all of us. How many of us have ever been in a lockdown before? People have lost their business, their shop, their job, and their income. The pandemic has also amplified social unrest that has been around for much longer. We have seen Black Lives Matter protests all over the world that in some cases were accompanied by eruptions of violence. The American elections showed us unprecedented clashes of Democratic and Republican voters, with protesters invading The Capitol as the temporary low point in the first week of this year. We have seen surrealistic images as if we were watching a Steven Spielberg movie. We are living in a time where reality keeps going beyond our imagination.

Strong Opinions

In their struggle for survival, people tend to have stronger opinions. Strong opinions have a higher chance of clashing with other strong opinions. On social media, those who are pro-vaccine fight those who are anti-vaccine and vice versa. Many feel they should have an opinion on this, and they flee in the apparent certainty of their firm standpoints. It reminds me of Simone Elkeles’s quote “Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks.” No one seems to listen anymore.

Instinctive Response

What we see in the world around us is an instinctual human response to uncertainty. Human nature resists what makes us feel insecure and what might even feel life-threatening. Our brain resists what might hurt us, and our reptile brain, the part of our brain that always responds first, tells us that something or someone might want to kill us. This old brain is always in survival mode. It judges situations and people in a split-second: is this going to hurt or even kill me, can I eat it, or can I screw it? Our instinctual response is to freeze, fight or flight.

Although we do not live in caves anymore, and we do not go out to hunt, our old brain has not adapted to that new reality yet. It still is focused on survival, and it keeps responding accordingly.

Forgiveness

In his Christmas speech, His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands also said: “Sharp debates about outspoken views or radical ideas are part of a free society. They are necessary and take us further. Those who seek guidance in those views or ideas should not be excluded. But the hallmark of a free society also has space for nuance, for reason and gentleness, for curiosity, and research, for irony, and self-perspective, and forgiveness. Forgiveness is almost an old-fashioned concept but one which is still beneficial. We, humans, were not created to hate each other.”

Listen Without Judgment

Listening without judgment cannot exist without forgiveness. You can compare it to caring for a cactus. You can choose to judge the cactus for its sharp spikes and ignore it. Or you can treat the cactus with attention and care, forgive its spikes, and listen to what it needs. It needs light, water, and food. Not too much and not too little. Enough to ensure that the cactus stays healthy and, with a bit of luck, will bloom.

Voice of the Customer

As a CX professional, you know the power of the voice of the customer. Listening to the customer helps you find out what your customers feel, think, want, and need. You know that listening to the customer will show you who is happy about what and who is not. You know that your colleagues will sparkle with joy when they see the compliments customers give. At the same time, you know customer feedback might hurt sometimes. But you know their feedback will help you. That is why you have learned to embrace negative feedback. Our reptile brain resists, but our rational brain has managed to overrule and say, “It is OK. No one wants to hurt you.”

‘People Start to Heal the Moment They Feel Heard’

You have learned that customer feedback is a gift that tells you which customer feels pain, what caused it, and how you can act on it. Customer feedback helps you soothe your customer’s pain, if necessary. It helps you improve your products, your services, your processes, and your people.

That is what YOU get out of it.

This coin also has another side: the customer who feels listened to. This feeling will contribute to their loyalty to your brand more than any loyalty program will ever do. “People start to heal the moment they feel heard”, Cheryl Richardson said.

Governments

If customers feel unseen and unheard, they are unlikely to climb the walls and stairs of your business and storm the entrance. It might be even worse: they will ignore you and silently go to your competitor.

How about non-commercial organisations like local, regional, national governmental, and semi-governmental bodies? Citizens consider themselves as tax-paying customers of their services. If they are not happy with the service provided, they do not have the alternative option to go somewhere else. They cannot go to a competitor. That makes it even more important to make them feel seen and heard. When citizens feel unheard, their shared sentiment forms a fertile breeding ground for rebellion, revolution, violence, or even anarchy.

Listening Mindset

Society could benefit from the listening mindset on which CX strategies are built, including Voice of the Customer. Therefor more CX professionals like you should find their way into organisations even more than they already do. In companies and local, regional, national, and international governments and institutions. These are the organisations that often operate at a far distance from their customers.

Connectors by Nature

CX professionals are connectors by nature. You connect your organisation, your brand with its customers. You act from a listening mindset: the willingness to listen, even if what you are going to hear might not match your ideas, your values, and beliefs. You know that what you are going to hear might even hurt. You still listen. Because you also know that what you are going to hear, will not kill you but will make you stronger. You listen because you know it will help you make the world a better place for your customers and your company.

King Willem-Alexander also said, “The soft voices also deserve to be heard.” Wouldn’t it be great if we could take our professional listening skills to the next level by using them to infect our families, our neighbors, our colleagues, and our customers with this listening virus?

Happy New Ears!

Frans Reichardt is a Judge at the International Customer Experience Awards 2020.

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