4 Ways This Hands-On CEO Listens to Customers

Communication always involves a sender and a receiver. Someone has to communicate; someone has to respond. But all too often in the world of startups and business, that critical response is missing. The company’s employees are too busy building their ideal product or working on current campaigns to pay close attention to what their customers are saying.

Chris Riley, CEO of Gearheads, says that’s one of the biggest mistakes a brand can make.

“I don’t think any CEO should ever be too busy for customers or readers of a given brand’s content. Maybe I spend more time on it than others, but I believe very strongly that time should be dedicated to being hands-on with your customers and readers.

I’ve been in touch with our readers since starting my company. Back then I had a very small budget and felt paying close attention to our readers and giving them what they wanted was important. That was a major contributing factor to our rapid growth and will continue to be in the future.”

Give Them What They Want

Riley founded the company on the principle that customers already know what they want--it’s his job to make sure their wants translate into what they get. He does this by listening to his company's customers, interacting with them, and implementing changes based on their responses and ideas.

Some of the changes Riley has implemented by listening to his customers:

1. New direction on content + follow-up on popular articles

“Our content team interacts with our customers and readers too, of course. And I can tell you first hand I’ve seen take suggestions from customers and readers and incorporate them into new content.”

Try taking your content in a new direction by doing a little testing and calibration. First, stop, look, and listen: Are there any recurring content suggestions your users have, or a form of content they seem to respond to best?

If, for example, your users have widely shared, commented on, and asked for more how-to articles in the past, you could create another useful guide. Then, record and analyze your results using appropriate measures and compare them to your usual content.

How did it fare? Try again--at a different time of day, with more or less photos, about a different topic, etc.--repetition with subtle change is the heart of testing content, so don't let your first trial decide what action you'll take.

2. Pushing into new, relevant industries

“We pushed into motorcycles. We posted a video which included a motorcycle racing a car, and the comments were loaded with readers showing off their motorcycles, so it was an instant no-brainer that they wanted to see more bikes.

We posted a few and they received a lot of attention so we added a new category to the main site and setup a separate fan page for motorcycles. The fan page has been active around 4 months and already has over 90,000 followers, but the past month the growth has really picked up and the readers there are even more active than on the automotive side.”

It helps to keep this quote in mind: "Don't fall in love with your solution--fall in love with your problem." Entrepreneurs who focus too much on what they're already doing to solve a problem can be blind to new, exciting possibilities. What problem is your startup trying to solve? Can you broaden your company's reach by expanding services beyond your original focus?

Riley's move into the motorcycle industry is a great example of listening to your customer's comments and wants instead of simply sticking with what you've done in the past. 

3. Paid social advertising

“We spend a minimum of $30,000 a month on Facebook alone, and part of the reason for that is to monitor constantly what people are saying, what content they like, and we can then react accordingly by posting more of what they like and less of what they don’t.”

With billions of users on Facebook every day, it's easy to see why so many startups rely on the site to link up with new customers. Paid social advertising allows you to reach broad, general audiences as well as narrow, targeted groups. Facebook ads provide a great way to test your content, reach an existing audience, find new customers, and spread the word about your company--if you know how to use them properly.

In my work as a freelance content specialist, I've helped lots of companies figure out a working ad budget, decide on the most engaging ad content, and find out who their ads should be shown to. Riley is skilled at managing these ads and spends $30K each month on them, but take my advice on this--if you're tackling paid social advertising for the first time, set a very low budget (>$50) with a few different ad designs and consider it a test.

Track your results and analyze to see how each version of your ad did. Don't invest large amounts of money in social advertising until you've got a competent campaign manager, whether that turns out to be you or a freelancer. 

4. Adding a community forum

“Listening to customers also led to the launch of our new community section on our website, which allows users to post their own content and show off their cars or motorcycles. People were constantly sending them to us via private message or in comments.

So we figured, let’s just give them a place where they can do this. We do not monetize this section whatsoever for the simple reason it belongs to our customers and readers.”

Active communities are so valuable to startups. If you can find a group of people who are passionate about a topic or product you represent and bring them together on your site to discuss it, you're already outperforming most companies out there. 

Riley found out what his users were most interested in talking about by simply listening to them and their suggestions. What have your customers suggested or asked for? Are there any recurring themes in those suggestions? This is a good place to start when you're interested in building an active community forum around your brand. 

Listen, or else

If you don't listen to your customers, someone will. Riley relies on gaps in his competitors' strategies and content to provide the best possible experience for his customers.

“If you aren’t listening to your readers, someone else will and it’s only a matter of time before you’re closing your doors. GearHeads started in 2012 and had 5,000-10,000 page views a day. By the end of that same year, we were up to 300,000+ a day, and it’s because we’re constantly searching for what isn’t being provided and using that to bring in new readers.”

Your customers and users can show you exactly what they want--you just have to listen well and respond appropriately. Following your customers’ needs will always lead you toward success. Conversely, ignoring their needs could spell failure for your company--especially if your competition does a better job of listening than you do.

How do you take your customers’ wants and needs into account? What tools or methods do you use to listen to your audience? Let us know in the comments!