How to Listen to the Silent Majority

How to Listen to the Silent Majority

March 16, 2016 | 2 min to read

It used to be that if you wanted customer feedback, you had to go looking for it. Today, it comes looking for you.

On the one hand, social media has made it easier than ever to connect with customers, metabolize their input, and adapt.

On the other hand, the online feedback model is intrinsically reactive, and tends to over-represent two groups: the very satisfied, and the very dissatisfied.

And while those are important voices, the majority of customers fall somewhere in between.

So how can you listen when most of your customers are silent?

Jennifer Ward of Crazy Squirrel Game Store took a direct approach in February when she invited a group of twenty customers to get together, have some pizza, and run an idea by them.

She was thinking about changing their game room policy from a "back-end" fee (make purchases, get access to the room) to a "front-end" fee (pay for access, get store credit for purchases). It was a big decision and Jennifer wanted to take everyone's temperature.

She does things like this a lot.

Before they even opened, local gamers helped them vet their location via social media. Recently, when they got some feedback that FNM was growing rote, they looked to the community for ideas and came up with a well-received incentive program.

"We talk to our gamers all the time," Jennifer says. "You have to."

Store Stats

Crazy Squirrel Game Store

Location: Fresno, CA, pop. 500,000
WPN Level: Advanced Plus
Age: 5 years
Size: 2,000 sq ft retail, 2,000 sq ft playspace
Website: http://www.crazysquirrelgamestore.com ("I need to update it!"—Jennifer)

But the issue was more sensitive this time. Crazy Squirrel is the only local store that charges a game room fee, and changing the policy could have proved pivotal.

Especially since the customers she's most likely to lose are the same customers that are least likely to bray: the silent majority.

Naturally, she was uneasy.

"I haven't decided if it's a smart idea or a foolish one," she said of the meeting, a few days beforehand.

A lot of companies think it's a smart one.

Open a two-way communication channel

What Jennifer's created is essentially a more private, less formal version of a customer advisory board: a group of non-employees that work intimately with a business and offer the customer's perspective.

For companies like Microsoft or Salesforce, participating in a customer advisory board grows a customer's social capital while serving the needs of the business.

At "third place" businesses like gyms, coffee shops, and game stores, people are less interested in social capital and more interested in social connections. For them, it grows the sense of community while serving the needs of its members.

That's a big part of why the most successful retailers are those that do the most to build strong communities. Jennifer's meeting does that. It is, in itself, an act of inclusion—a way of listening to those customers that are less likely to speak up.

But it's also an invitation to invest in the success of the store.

And that's just what Jennifer saw at the meeting.

She'd scheduled two hours for it. It ended up going about four—and only a portion of it was spent discussing the game room policy.

Instead, players had suggestions for their website. Ideas for social media strategy. Tips for integrating new faces into the community—color-coded name tags, possibly, and name tags for employees. Their suggestions represented not just their own interests, but the store's.

Some of these suggestions have already been implemented, and there's more coming soon.

It turns out the silent majority is worth listening to.

By Matt Neubert

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