Listening to comments graphic

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage that the best way to succeed in business is to listen to your customers. Easy enough. You can set up an online survey, send out an email questionnaire, talk on the phone, talk in person, organize a big, expensive focus group—but here’s the thing. Your customer may not be completely honest with you because they know it’s YOU asking the questions.

I’m not discounting the value of any of these activities. I’m saying you need to take the results with a grain of salt.

So, how do you get your customer to tell you what they really think? How do you find out what their true pain points are or how they genuinely feel about your services or products? You don’t ask them. You eavesdrop on them.

I’m using the term customer in a broad sense here to mean anyone in a target market who interacts (and transacts) with you and your business or who will potentially do so. I’m painting in broad strokes because we all have a number of different audiences or markets that we work with, and I want you to think about the one that provides you with the most value or that you’re most interested in reaching.

Online Groups

For years people have been telling you that you need to join Facebook Groups or LinkedIn Groups. It will help your business; you’ll network and learn and share. Did that happen? Maybe not. Often  people involved in an online group are hangers-on, lurking about, maybe adding a comment or two now and then, but not really engaging—it’s the 80/20 rule, where you’ll get more engagement from the top 20 percent than the bottom 80 percent. But networking is not the real reason you should join an online group.

The real reason you should join an online group is to eavesdrop on your customers.

Find a group that’s relevant to your business—writers, plumbers, furniture designers, whatever (they’re all out there somewhere)—and join up. Spend some time reading through the posts and seeing what kind of questions are being asked and what kind of answers are being provided. Copy the stuff that jumps out at you to a document. You’re looking for pain points—problems you can solve, situations you can address—or processes or items that are important to the customer. Don’t spend too much time on this, maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Keep track of what you see repeated.

Amazon Reviews

Amazon reviews are great for targeted research on a specific service or product.

We deal with books and writers a lot, so I tend to look at book reviews—your product will vary. Here’s the secret about books: You can find a book about pretty much anything, and that book will (or will claim to) replace the person or the software that it’s about.

Let’s say you’re a financial adviser. Use the keywords financial planning or financial advising in the Books category. There are tons of books offering financial advice, right? Pick the top ten or 20 based on relevance. Click to the reviews and start skimming. Again, you’re looking for comments about problems, solutions, and how the person feels or thinks about the problem or solution—language that makes you stop and think or language that is repeated. Copy it to a document with a detailed note. Pay particular attention to the reviews between two and four stars; they tend to be more realistic than the extremely disappointed and angry one stars and the hyperbolic and hyperventilating five stars. If you’ve spent longer than 20, 25 minutes on this, you’ve gone too far. (Shout out to Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers for this one.)

How to Use What You’ve Learned

Remember, you’re eavesdropping with purpose. You want to know what your customers genuinely think about your business, your product, your service. You want to know what they’re really saying about how a product or service solves a problem or helps them gain something of value. You want to know the language they’re using to describe these things—because you can steal it.

In the world of copywriting and marketing, stealing is called swiping, and everyone does it. A good copywriter develops swipe files that make the writing process go more quickly and provide inspiration. The language that you have copied from groups and reviews is invaluable. This is how people are really talking about what you do, what you provide. Use their words to edify yourself and improve your product or service, but also use their words in your own marketing copy.

Literally. Copy and paste them. This is what the great marketers and copywriters do. They do this because it gets results. Nothing is more powerful than a customer’s own thoughts or words staring back at them from the digital or printed page.

Use this valuable language beyond just your marketing copy. Use it in your new book, a new series of blog posts, or your next talk—anywhere you’re describing your offering and its benefits.

You may find yourself stung by what you read—criticisms abound online, as do trolls, and you or your business may be mentioned by name. Take a deep breath, step back emotionally from the comment, and reread it as objectively as you can. This is how you learn and improve.

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