Start Listening: Why Testing Alone Isn’t the Answer

The immediacy of the data. The stark nature of the results. The ability to select a “winner.” For many, this allure of A/B and multivariate testing has elevated the practice of site optimization to a Holy Grail. Content, offers, creative imagery, pricing, device, and time-of-day are all fair game for optimization. For better or worse, with a few simple mock-ups and some readily accessible software, just about everything can be tested. And when all goes well, a clear option emerges.

But what happens when the data gets a bit murkier? When it’s not completely clear why one version is surging to the top? When it’s not just one variable that drives the decision? Why what seems like the obvious winner is, in fact, losing? In a world of data-driven marketing, where everything must have a root cause and scientific correlation, this lack of clarity can send marketers into a tailspin.

What About Listening to the Customer?

While optimization testing may provide a framework to validate or disprove a hypothesis, there is no substitute for real listening. Yes, actually asking customers directly for their opinion and point of view. And listening to what they have to say, good or bad. In this era of testing and automation the thought of reaching out and listening has become an anathema to modern marketers. And while not all marketers have the luxury of time or budget to create elaborate focus groups or live customer tests, basic listening and survey tools are available to support marketers of all sizes.

Options for Listening

A wide spectrum of engagement tools makes customer listening – active or passive – a necessity for a truly informed decision-making cycle.

  • Call center listening. Call centers are a treasure trove of information for those willing to listen in. Getting from what to why can be done through monitoring top engagement calls. Top returns, top service request, longest support call – all great options for listening. Listening to the actual call will often give much more context than simply assessing the data reported by the call center. Consider spending one day a month in your call center to get a routine flavor of your customers’ perspectives.
  • Social listening. What is happening in the world of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube? What are your customers saying about your products and services? More passive listening than live, in-person conversations, social listening can often capture customer sentiment in its rawest form. Are they railing against the latest price increase – or raving about a new offering? What can you be learning from a fan or fanatic? From jubilation to disgust, social media is becoming a primary channel to voice opinion. From chatter volume and broad sentiment to more complex trend and conversation analysis, ensure that social channels are being monitored, even if you are not actively responding to the conversation.
  • Site surveys. Ask, and ask again. It’s amazing how much a user is willing to share when given the opportunity. But make sure you are asking valuable questions. Beyond simple satisfaction measurements, use site surveys to narrow down specific challenges. Targeting your surveying to discrete audiences, geographies, and segments will allow you to obtain richer, more actionable insights than general site “satisfaction” surveys.
  • Customer focus groups. No longer the highly controlled version popularized in “Mad Men,” focus groups have evolved into a more open forum for candid discussion and debate. When properly moderated, focus groups become less about the two-way mirror and much more about eliciting core emotional responses. Consider using smaller groups and customer meet-ups as part of your ongoing dialogue, occurring routinely – with or without new products or messaging to test.

Whether you are looking to validate your testing strategy, validate internal points of view, or even clarify ambiguous data, all conversations need to start and end with the customer. Without knowing your audience, and their evolving needs, you cannot truly optimize your marketing impact.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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