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

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