Listening and Transparency Are More Important Than Ever In Mobile Age


In previous posts, I’ve talked about the dramatic change at retail with what I call the “megaphone” effect. In case you missed those writings, I’m a firm believer that at the “Moments of Trust” touchpoints bringing together a consumer and a business, the individual has an amped-up and important voice regardless of whether he or she carries a smartphone or a feature phone.

At these “Moments of Trust” that impact sales and brand loyalty, consumers express their pleasure, displeasure or indifference (which may be worst of all) via instantly posting their words, photos or videos on social networks, or by texting to those in their worlds. It doesn’t take the most sophisticated phone or the most technical of mobile user. It just takes a megaphone.

I bring the subject up again after reading Why SMBs Should Embrace Negative Customer Feedback, a post on

In it, an employee for daily deals site wrote about the comments his business received after it began selling a credit card pocketknife, a utility knife that folds into the size of a credit card.

Soon after, a customer in law enforcement posted the following message, criticizing the sale of the product:

“As a Law Enforcement Officer, I do not appreciate you selling items that criminals can easily hide... As a result of you selling this product, I will no longer be your customer, and will be spreading the word, via word of mouth and social media, for people to stop buying from your website.”

The remarks were out of the ordinary with most daily input coming about shipping and returns.

But knowing that BIA/Kelsey estimates that small businesses spent $1.6 billion managing their online reputations in 2011, and are projected to spend more than $5 billion a year by 2015, decided to be transparent and open to dialogue to its 420,000 active Facebook fans.

“From a financial perspective it was important for us to survey our consumers to ascertain whether this particular consumer’s sentiment was more widespread,” the author wrote in the post. “We decided that if the reaction to selling the knife was overwhelmingly negative, we would reconsider whether to sell this product because it would hurt our bottom line by alienating existing customers. On the other hand, there was also a concern that by soliciting feedback we would draw unnecessary attention to this issue and bring out otherwise latent criticism.”

Within 24 hours, the company received over 750 comments. Many of those that left comments were appreciative that the company was seeking their perspective. The vast majority agreed with the decision to list the knife, pointing out that other major retailers sell the same and similar knives. One comment, which received over 220 independent likes, said, "I don't appreciate the law enforcement officer trying to tell me what I should and shouldn't buy, because I haven't done anything to forfeit that right."

Which brings me back to the in-store experience. It’s no different than what happened in this case online (in fact, by 2015 more will be viewing the Web on a mobile device than PC).

Small and medium sized businesses compete and often win on the personal touch, and by knowing and listening to the customer. This is even more critical in the mobile era with speed to comment and influence happening at a blistering pace. took a negative and turned it into a large positive. It’s a lesson worth remembering.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.