FOE6: Listening and Empathy and making Companies more Human

Liveblogged at Futures of Entertainment. Some summarisation on the fly took place!

Media properties have long measured audiences with Nielsen ratings, circulation numbers, website traffic and a range of other methods that transform the people who engage with content into that aggregate mass: the audience. Meanwhile, marketing logic has long been governed by survey research, focus groups, and audience segmentation. And, today, executives are being urged to do all they can to make sense of the “big data” at their fingertips. However, all these methods of understanding audiences–while they can be helpful–too often distance companies from the actual human beings they are trying to understand. How do organizations make the best use of the myriad ways they now have to listen to, understand, and serve their audiences–beyond frameworks that aim to “monitor, “surveil,” and “quantify” those audiences as statistics rather than people? What new understandings are unearthed when companies listen to their audiences, and the culture around them, beyond just what people are saying about the organization itself? What advantages do companies find in embracing ethnographic research, in thinking about an organization’s content and communications from the audience’s perspective, and in thinking of “social media” not just as a new way to market content but a new and particularly useful channel for communicating, collaborating and conducting business?


Lara Lee, Chief Innovation and Operating Officer, Continuum; Grant McCracken, author, Culturematic, Chief Culture Officer; Carol Sanford, author, The Responsible Business; Emily Yellin, author, Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us. Moderator: Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy, Peppercomm

SF: Let’s start off looking at issues surrounding listening and empathy. What does that mean in this context. WIll see why the panel is here.
CS: My work is about working with Fortune50 CEOs, and designing business, so connected with outside world from start. Looks at strategy, how decisions are made, leadership, work design and detail. Also work with entrepreneurs. Always amazed that people who want to do social start-ups are as bad at listening as the corporate worlds. THey copy the models. More fun designing from beginning to connect. TO be sustainable.
CM: studies contemporary western cultures. Concern is about culture inside and outside the corporation. YOu can’t have community or enterprise unless everyone on same page. That consensus means that the people in the org bind with one set of understanding of world, turns into assumptions, turns into coded behaviour within an org. everything hat makes an org good at being an org makes them bad at grasping opps outside the org. Even when you install methods, get info and knowledge from outside in, get understanding from outside-in. It is tough to get the fundamental understandings that inform the individual and comm outside the org into the org. How do you get the penny drop, how do you know where they are coming from. That is fantastically difficult for an org to do, to do it themselves. How do they take up residence in the world outside, know how they are seen from outside. The challenge is to know there are other viewpoints.

EY: firstly a journalist. For 2nd book, focuses on how bad a job customer service is, the hold issue, looking at the customer service industry. We don’t think much about the convergence of the culture. Everyone has had to deal with customer service. How do the people in charge connect with the people on the ground. From a customer POV, it was important to take a look at it, has an impact on all our lives. A bad experience has a bad impact on day, on the rest of lives. It is a barometer of how we deal with people in public; it is an indicator of how a company deals with each other, with people. Now working with companies to apply empathising, to understand what it means for customer service.

LL: Driven by connecting people across divides. Started in large multi-nationals, moved to working on something more connected with culture – joined Harley-Davidson. It is about getting close to customer culture, understanding what is going on in the world and bringing it back to the company. Now looking at new companies, bringing new business models, link human-company divide. looking at branding communities, what are the best practices, how do you build and sustain them. Working on businesses that connect with humans, bringer greater meanings to their live whilst solving some problems.

SF: As we look across discussions over th next day, they focus ont he difficulty that companies have in listening, having a participatory relationship with the audiences they are trying to reach. My background, looking at soap operas, showed how the studies did not connect with the fans. One soap opera writer talked about how the audience was seen as a concept, the numbers, the reach etc, not the actual people. There was a lack of caring about the audience themselves. This writer now works on World Wrestling. This is a live show and they can listen to audience in real-time, and react to what is happening and change things on the fly. Listening is about more than just recording. The conversations we are having today about audiences and social media is the same as about digital media, the same as before. THe subject and the conversations don’t change…just the channel. There are so many layers and processes that make it difficult for the audiences to be heard by the companies. So what is listening?

CS: looking at 2 individuals in a long term relationship. How do you listen through the patterns, through the standards. Asking about how do you know a person listens – when I get a present that wasn’t on the list. SO listening is about beyond the straightforward list, to see patter behind what is on the surface.

GM: the trick is moving from listening to empathy. Moving to the world you don’t know. Empathy is participating in their emotional life. About getting into the way they conceptualise their world. It’s about shifting the frame; about knowing what the other things and feels. It is easy to get an org to know there is a world they don’t get, getting them to get it is harder.

EY: a key is getting outside of own point of view. It goes to the intent. Real listening is not about focusing what I want from you, but about understanding the other person. Having to talk to business groups, focus on the bottom line. Marketing was just about sales, but now it is more about service, service is your marketing. If you are in marketing and don’t understand service, then you have a problem. How do people treat you at all times, in the hotel, in the store. In an org, these aren’t under silo of market, or even customer service. ALso, empathy leads to a change in behaviour on your part. So when thinking about this from audience, how do we use the information., do we use it in service of us or in service of the audience, the customer. Instead of asking ‘what would legal say’ we ask ‘what would our customer service’. You have to empathise with what the other will go through, It is using your humanity to connect with another.

LL: It comes back to intent. YOu can listen, hear and understand. Do you understand the big picture? If you do that to understand the whole person but it still doe snot generate the relationship.If your intent is to have a relationship, then you get different interfaces, different behaviours, different processes. IF you start with less a bout service as a function, but more as a philosophy, that is when you can activate empathy.

SF: THe history, of the digital world, of how companies are talking about developing a relationship. The broadcast model is impression and circulation etc. The digital world tried to maintain the same relationship. Talk about stickiness, how do we get people to our walled garden so we can track them and understand, Still similar to broadcast model. We think about new things in terms of what has gone before. THen the concept of viral comes out, getting people infected with product. Now we talk about influencers. THis si about getting stuff understandable, so companies are comfortable with what is happening. It is trying to hide about developing a relationship with an audience. A lot of companies talk about listening, they receive the information, they hear. THey collect a lot of data, sentiment monitoring, share of voice etc. We try and turn it back into numbers. but we don’t go beyond that. How do you understand? When we talk about listening, it is beyond the numbers. What are some of the methods that companies can use?

LL: THere is nothing wrong with quantitative. No reason not to understand the patterns. Data tells us what is happening not why. Can show us where to dig, may show us changes, anomalies. To develop a hoilistic picture, to get real empathy, to get meaningful products etc, you have to get out there and talk to people in context. SO how do you deploy resources effectively. BEst example I have, with Harley Davidson, pushing boundaries of customer-centric culture. We looked at everything we were doing and asked how it could be a listening post, a way of connecting. So events, we staffed with employees, to get that connection. It was an investment in developing a community-centric culture. Efficient in marketing to have staff spending time directly with customers. More recently, with United Healthcare, on Medicare. Now we have this wave og Boomers moving into Medicare. It has been serving a population with a different set of there is an option to differentiate base don services. Can United teach 10k employees to listen empathetically, to act on it to make a better service. Created a customer journey, a simple set of tools to help them understand the issues, the problems. Designed some ways of making sure they reflect the values when fixing problems.

EY: YOu asked what tools? there are 2, common sense and trust are those. It is something we get away form when we quantify everything, when we make things concrete. THe best, don’t train people how to deal with customers, they start with their humanity. It’s about what people feel, they don’t want people to feel bad, angry etc. SO the best companies start by getting people to think about the feeling of the customers. So when the person on the phone can not action things, the company is not trusting their employees, not trusting their common sense. that is not about the best thing for customers. We have so many gets back to intent

SF: you mentioned language. That really matters. In a company, the way we talk about the audience matters. Are they users, consumers, audience, fans etc. The way we refer to the people we try and reach is to do how we think about the audience. Why don’t we just call then people. It is an issue in the company.

CS: How to connect? You can change how you design the work. YOu need to dehomogenise how we think about people. People is still too broad. How do you connect with the ‘being’ of the people you are trying to service. working with a company, we wrapped teams around the lives of people they are trying to serve (personas). You need to find a way of connecting the teams. That they are responsible for a particular set of ‘lives’. Seventh Generation was set up to good things for environment, not for the customer they served. CS changed it so that teams were responsible for lives improving. CS made the teams cross-functional, so the measurement connected with people who could act.

SF: where is the disconnect. People make culture everyday why is it hard for companies getting the culture. They send it out, why can’t they bring it in. SO G

GM: ONe of the things that people have resorted to is using ethnography. Getting people into homes, having conversations. It has proved to be an unhappy outcome, not pretty, It has been badly commoditised. It presupposes a kind of conversational symmetry, between person in home and the person asking questions. FOr me, when you get into another culture, you need to make yourself their servant, to really understand what is happening. So asymmetry is not wrong, it should run in the opposite direction, the org is the servant of the person.

LL: if you can have the activities of chief culture office, wrapped around with some skunkworks, wrapped around some revenue generation bit. Companies can then understand it, about bringing a value back to the company. It is a value exchange.

SF: one of the points that we keep coming back to, is about orgs having everyone having a specific function…but things that could be similar are different departments, that don’t work together well. There is a challenge of budgets. Who controls what. How do you get more listening inside a corporation, so we know what other departments wants. How do you centre around the idea of the experience. How do you encourage all employees to take experience of the audience at its heart. How to get ALL employees in the shoes of the audience

EY: Customer Service has a bad name, both in and out of companies. And few want to be in it. Marketing want to differentiate…so they do customer experience. Customer Experience is often taken more seriously as it is a new thing, a new concept. But in companies getting it right, there is an element of design. You design an experience for the audience. Collaboration is part of this, collaborating with audience. YOu get real time input into what people are feeling. We rely on what people tell us, but you also need to watch people. When you are telling a story, it is about showing. A lot of times, people show you things,, it’s not just about asking them things. Working with Credit Suisse, they had a customer experience function. THey had designers, web people, someone who looked at the five senses. They also had a guy who went to the banks, he just watched the customers, watched what they did, how they interacted. He could predict the behaviour base don how you entered the back. Feeds into the design thinking, you watch how people use things and set it up so there are no obstacles in what they want to do. Customer experience is not just looking a single piece, you need to empower employees to do something about it – even if not their department. YOu need to give people the power to help.

CS: A deeper listening, is about not just looking for the problem, but then taking it to the next level to make it really efficient

LL: all the good companies, do this, make it aligned with the values, making it the need fo everyone. IN this culture, we tend to have a machine view of the company, and this prevents a system view, a holistic view of an org,. Where the values flow. There was a question about listening to what they say or observe what they do. We have being doing studies of millennial and food. So things like people who are vegetarian and concerned out health – but puts loads of dressing on salad and eats lots of twinkies as they are vegetarian. Say and do is different. We studied WebKindz, which has commerce, as a way to see what people will want from banking in the future.

SF: there has been several questions about measurement. THere are more things to measure, monitor and watch then ever before. ORgs are drowning in data. How do you see the balance between all the data and what could be done with it all, plus some of the more qualitative processes.

GM: you can use big data to discover loads…we have indicators of the world that we could not consider before. But this encourages the worst tendencies in some people, who just want a number. But big data can’t tell you about culture, Things will have to be restated in the face of the big data. Big data will give people the illusion they know what is happening

LL: big data can tell you a lot. What it can’t tell you is what will work in a culture, what the trends are. Some work in Brazil, the data told us that lots of people were buying TVs etc (in slums). We discovered that the TV was a safety measure – it kept kids inside and safe in dangerous environments. We can have granular data at an individual level, but knowing about a person is not the same as knowing a person.

EY: there is value (in survey data), but the assumptions that it can lead to then there is a problem. Listening is also about not making assumptions. Look a the company reaction when telephones came, about having a phone on the desk. THey were scared. The same now with social media. YOu need to be clear that the bottom line is the same, it is about how you treat people regardless of the tech or the data or being able to quantify everything. Data is about the tail wagging the dog. It comes back to design, how to design an experience. Language is a big part of this, how you follow through. THe language you use, the way you discuss and talk to them. It needs to be in their language not yours. THen there is a value system. It has be beyond just the numbers. What is the value in what you are doing. It is about doing it for beyond the numbers. Balance the data with the meaning of life!

SF: there are lots of questions about participation. How do you listen without trivialising it. How do you engage, collaborate, co-create. Does social media work with customer service. What is the balance, with getting them involved. DO you ask too much, or expect to much.

CS: Orgs, they started off to design, build and sell hammers. Now they have to do everything, respond inside and outside, etc. They started off very different. Why don’t we just start again? Rip it up and redesign.

SF: when looking at activity, you do need scale in some areas. We don’t want to trivialise participation by just measuring it, but measures can have an impact…how do we turn the numbers into meanings – what issues do we have with assumptions

LL: The more chaotic the world becomes, the more we want to measure and control and manage. Can you do experiments to gain understanding of the new world, what are different ways to create, manage, share, spread value. It’s a different mindset..mving not from just numbers, but understanding the critical variables. Not a mechanistic mindset, a holistic one.

EY: in tech, there is a lot of talk about legacy systems. Can you get rid of it or does it need to be jerryrigged. If you are going to start over, or evolve, do you look at the needs that you have now and in the future, this gets back to the value system. We have got into short-term returns and that is the only thing we care about. Should we slow down, ask where we are going and what we are doing, understand if it will get us where we want to be. Surveys, focus groups etc can be valuable , but they are just tools, don’t let the results rules you. YOu need to know if it is the right tool o get the information, are you using it for the right reasons. Is it just because competitor is doing, or if the right thing for next 5 years. THe tech etc has to serve our needs.

SF: Now looking for audience questions…

AUDQ: what’s a cultural officer?

GM: someone who looks at the external culture and helps the internal culture understand and respond to the external culture.

AudQ: GM says we need to start over. Are we over thinking things, aren’t there still companies that just need to make hammers?

GM: probably not. Orgs need to know about the future, about the culture etc.

LL: Datamining can help us see the anomalies and understand changing needs. Look at Zipcar, car ownership is more of a burden so Zipcar works in the environment.

GM: capitalism has discovered everything doe smelt into air. Commerce is a cultural enterprise, not just creation of products. The train companies are not in the train business, they are in the transportation business. Capitalism creates a world that it then struggles to catch up with intellectualism.

EY: a lot of current companies have been base don collaboration internally and externally. Not new, but easier. Entrepreneurism is also a way of being an employee, not just a owner. We ask far more of customers now as well.

CS: having a lot of fun working with Millennials who are starting up businesses. Throwing out lots of traditional things associated with companies. Worked out how they want to work inside and then making the outside world confirming it. They have teams that are wrapped around markets, around audiences. They are writing global imperatives for bits that don’t have a voice yet, earth, community etc. How do we design what the global imperatives for make life works. THey re-invent the design almost monthly. It is about working in a living system, to change the scale.

EY: Artists have responsibility, you can’t get away with things. It is harder for them to disregard their audiences, their customers.

AudQ: Excited but uncomfortable with usage of service as a word. Have you seen in movement in this place of humility?

CS: it hates the word service, it is a separator between you and I. It as though we are not in it together. In our mind, it is about not being IN the system and that is the challenge.

LL: it is about when WE are in service to something that matters to all – so all parties are in service.

CS: maybe we are co-creating. We are creating something that matters to all of us. The people who are NOT moving (with this change) do not matter. Not everyone gets it, that we are part of a whole

LL: again, the ideas are not radical or new, it is the tools and people who are changing.

AudQ: How does the design thinking is for digital only? How do you take the principles of ethnography online.

LL: Going back to the bank example, it was about putting customer are centre across ALL touchpoints, Digital and online, for banking customers, the unbanked and for future customers. If you understand the needs, the values, the functional needs, the touchpoints. You design an holistic experience that feels seemless, across all touchpoints., YOu play back that you have understood them

GM: one of the relics of market research was that you needed to be objective; but you needed amnesia, about the actual people you have talked to. But its more about having longer term relationships.

AudQ: the question about campaigns, about thinking in cycles, about launches

LL: for me, campaigns, to planned experiments. Changing the thinking about the contexts. It’s a continuum, an ongoing relationship. It’s a different frame for the work

EY: does it hinder empathy. Are you integrating what your company and your customer needs. The customer has to be come first, you don’t need a campaign if the new thing has come from listening. A lot of time it is about getting the product out there (in this year, etc). But why are you launching, for whom are you launching.

AudQ: How do you cultivate the skills, the qualitative skills, the understanding

GM: doing lots and lots of it. You need powers of pattern recognition, the experience, listening and working with it. It is built up with kinds of education and then lots and lots of doing it

CS: it’s also about a lot of personal development. When working with orgs, do acts of seeing themselves. It is about building the capability to see themselves and making them know when they project themselves. It is about development of the responsible human.

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