Watching Customers is Not Listening to Them

August 23, 2010 at 7:19 AM 6 comments

Facebook Places is the latest location-based service to enter the market, and thanks to Facebook’s huge footprint, it’s getting tons of hype. Marketers are probably salivating at the thought of taking advantage of the data they get from Facebook’s huge base as they leave a trail around their neighborhoods.

The data streaming into businesses may be useful. But let’s not mistake this for the kind of listening that will allow you to innovate over the long term.
Deep customer listening starts with a question and becomes a conversation. Location-based services are a one-way conversation started by the customer. The data may tell you who are your most loyal customers, but it won’t tell you WHY they are loyal. Essentially, you’re watching customers, not listening to them.

Moreover, you’re listening to a small, self-selected segment of your customers. Don’t confuse the customer who wants to be heard with the customer who has something to say.

No doubt Facebook Places will help companies track consumer behavior better. All those people who say they shop at local greengrocers will now be busted for buying their zucchini at Walmart.

But companies will need to use their ears as well as their eyes if they hope to understand their customers and create something new.


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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rob Diana  |  August 23, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    Yes, listening is still critical, and this gives you another platform to listen to. As the platform grows, maybe including reviews, there will be more ways to engage with the customer directly. Now, we just need to wait until it all comes together.

  • 2. Thompson Morrison  |  August 23, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    Rob, good point. Potential for engagement might certainly develop as this platform develops.

    But my point is that we must be careful of the trap of “watching” rather than “listening”. In fact, watching can be intoxicating and might even prevent engagement. Subtle, yes, but real listening requires humility. “Watching” can give one the sense of power that makes humility difficult. Watching gives you insight how to manipulate, Listening gives you insight how to co-innovate.

  • 3. Mark Kolier  |  August 23, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    I think you are making an important diffentiation Thompson on the difference between listening and watching. Montoring data from Foursqaure and FB Places is NOT listening. It’s watching, and it is interesting but your point is well taken. Thanks for a good post.

  • 4. Peter Propp  |  August 23, 2010 at 6:32 PM

    It seems that Foursquare and others have already developed some symbiotic relationships between marketers and consumers. My belief is that a marketing with deep pockets for research and apps will combine the two with a mobile social app that will truly give them a competitive edge. It hasn’t happened yet, but all the ingredients are there for someone with guts and money to place their bets and win big.

  • 5. Larry Irons  |  August 24, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    Nicely said!

  • 6. Joe Mathieu  |  August 27, 2010 at 3:44 AM

    Hi Thompson. Great ideas here. I think the key thing to keep in mind is that the very idea of geo-location (i.e. “check-ins”) is entirely new to the marketing mix. As it stands, you are 100% correct– there is limited means for businesses to actively engage with consumers through these tools. However, as “check-ins” become more widely accepted, we are already developing platforms to enable businesses to move past the “listening” stage, and on-to active engagement.


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Thompson Morrison

Thompson Morrison

About Thompson

As CEO of FUSE Insight, Thompson Morrison uses powerful new web interviewing technologies to help businesses better align their brand with the needs and aspirations of their customers. Learn more at


"The single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization." -- Tom Peters



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