The Secret to Designing Surveys with Active Listening In Mind

Active listening: the practice of dedicating one's full attention to concentrating on, understanding, and remembering what another person has said. It is one thing to listen to, and then acknowledge what someone has told you, yet a wholly different experience to honestly hear what someone has said, understand their point of view, and remember their words with the original intent with which they were shared; this is what separates listeners from active listeners.

Many have dedicated great time and effort to perfecting the craft but how do you transform the skill into an actionable, measurable strategy that genuinely improves customer relationships and experience?

In an article by WayPoint Group, Dennis Dube, VP of Revenue Operations for Advance Local discussed his team's active listening strategy for strengthening customer relationships with Steve Bernstein, CEO and creator of TopBox. For their strategy, Dennis and his team identified key stages of the customer journey during which clients might need additional support from the company. They initiated a series of near-real-time surveys at these key stages to listen to their customers and learn about their experiences, collecting their feedback to efficiently assess the situation and provide the right type of support to prevent customer satisfaction from dwindling.

Though a thoughtful and useful strategy in and of itself, the real ingenuity in their approach is in how they design their process for feedback collection and analysis to wholeheartedly embody the practice of active listening.

Surveys would be great listening tools...if the the modern human was naturally inclined to dedicate precious hours of the day to rating the "ease-of-use of miscellaneous product feature x", and if it was possible to gleam comprehensive insights from a sub-set of survey respondents. In reality, leveraging surveys to improve customer experience and strengthen customer relationships can often be a challenge for two reasons: (1) Inspiring survey participation from customers is difficult in large part because the act of participating in the average survey can feel like sending a series of Likert scale responses out into the void with blind hope the universe will regurgitate something meaningful back, and (2) Yielding accurate results from a survey is not always possible when only a limited amount of survey respondents have participated.

Dennis was keenly aware of these challenges when designing his survey strategy and shared his thoughts on how to overcome them. "My big belief is that there's three primary drivers for why someone will or won't fill out a survey: fatigue, connection, and intention," said Dennis. Fatigue arises when surveys are too long and broad. Connection is determined by the pre-existing relationship the surveyor has with the survey respondent. Intention is all about the company's intention to not only understand the collected data but plan to enact change around the lessons learned. "When a customer knows there is purpose and intention in the survey, they feel that their response is time well spent."

With purpose, intent, personal connection and commitment to action, anyone can transform passive survey data collection into individual moments of active listening and meaningful engagement with their customers. How do you design surveys to actively listen to your customers?

Professional Development Made Easy with Online Training from Referential

You heard right folks - our online training has officially launched!

The curriculum for Referential's customer advocacy training was collaboratively created by a group of customer advocacy professionals with experience across a broad range of industries and an assortment of different types of advocacy programs. Our training teaches students how to think and act like an experienced customer advocacy practitioner and how to manage advocacy programs that empower both companies and customers to succeed.

In addition to our in-person training sessions, you can now register for a self-paced online learning experience. The topics covered in the online course and in-person class are identical but the overall learning experience varies across the different delivery formats.

The online training is provided through 10-30 minute video lessons to enable students to complete the course at their own convenience. Every lesson is followed by a comprehension quiz that reinforces the lesson's key takeaways and helps students prepare for ICCAP certification. Lessons also are accompanied by discussion boards where students and course facilitators engage in dialogue, ask questions of one another, and share tips and strategies from their own experience. In addition to video lessons and comprehension quizzes, the online training includes bonus lessons in which a cohort of customer advocacy experts share their advice and best practices for thriving in the discipline.

The in-person training is provided over the course of 1-3 days and is facilitated by an experienced, customer advocacy expert. In-person training is offered at Referential's San Jose headquarters and can be delivered any where around the world by request. We've traveled as close as Redwood City and as far as Rome to support and educate practitioners in the industry. In-person training participants have access to the course facilitator throughout the duration of the class and can ask questions or seek advice directly from the expert. They also have the benefit of being able to connect with and learn from other professionals attending the class.

Currently, our Level 1 training - Introduction to the Fundamentals of Customer Advocacy - is available online. This introductory course is a deep-dive into the principles that shape and define every customer advocacy program. The course provides students an opportunity to learn and apply the basic tools and strategies of advocate recruitment and reference request fulfillment. Topics covered include leveraging reference management systems to track and assess program performance, establishing processes for cross-functional collaboration to identify and recruit advocates, and refining communication strategies for a range of different customer audiences.  

Online courses for Level 2 and Level 3 are coming soon! You can learn more about the contents of each course and how to register for a training on our website:

Meet the Referential Team: Paula Kozak

After many years in different marketing roles at various high-tech companies, Paula found her “home" in her first reference management position while working at Sun Microsystems. This happened during a corporate reorganization when the Director asked her if she wanted to lead the new references team. To which she replied, “Sure!… What’s a reference?”

Paula headshot.jpg

Ten years later, she is often quoted as saying, “If there’s a better job in marketing, someone needs to tell me since I don’t know what that is – and I’ve done most of them!”

Paula finds customer advocacy so valuable and compelling, regardless of company, because references touch each leg of the marketing three-legged stool: lead generation, brand promotion and sales enablement.

What gets Paula up in the morning is the notion of being able to contribute every day to the company’s success. Today, as a Customer Advocacy Consultant with Referential, Inc., she is eager to continue to learn more about advocacy programs; collaborating with teammates across a wide array of advocacy programs, she is able to bring new thinking to her specific clients.

Mom to Christy and Katrina, wife to Anne with 4 grandkids and counting, Paula can be found hiking to the top of a mountain most weekends. Since she lives in New Hampshire, some people might call them ‘hills’ but with the kind of views she sees at the top, the debate over terminology doesn’t matter much to her: Paula’s goal is to climb the highest peak in each of the New England states!

A Summer of Long-Distance Teamwork


At Referential, the only thing stronger than our customer advocacy consulting might be our adaptability to our ever-evolving workforce. Since the start of the summer, we've welcomed four new members to the team, expanding our presence across the east and west coasts of the U.S.. These new additions diversify the various time zones our team occupies, ensuring that we can connect with our clients' customers no matter where they reside in the world.

With about half our team local at our San Jose, California-headquarters and the other half remote, not a day goes by in the Referential office without a lively video chat or phone call between colleagues. Our phone system makes it easy to connect with anyone on the team via extension numbers and Skype is one of the first applications to launch on every employee's computer each morning to ensure no one is ever more than a quick message away. Our bi-monthly team meetings bring the whole office together over video call, where the faces of our multinational Referential comrades adorn the projector screen in our board room while sharing updates from their various corners of the world.

Though our satellite offices continue to multiply, the day-to-day workflow at Referential remains relatively unchanged. Our skill nurturing customer advocates and managing advocacy programs, however, continues to grow and improve with the addition of each new team member. Leveraging the collective experience of customer advocacy professionals who have contributed to advocacy programs of every shape and size has only improved our ability to support the variety of needs of our clients. We're excited to incorporate all the strategies and best-practices our newest employees bring into our consulting services and customer advocacy training. Hope you have a chance to meet and work with our growing team!

Making Better Marketing Decisions

Data has come to define how strategy is crafted and how decisions are made in almost every aspect of business operations. That is, everything except the creative part of marketing according to Dan Gingiss, a Forbes contributor and customer experience keynote speaker and consultant. In his article, "Why Subjective Marketing Decisions Can Lead To A Poor Customer Experience", Gingiss contends that most aspects of a company, from accounting departments to product development teams, would never default to relying on one individual's opinion to make wide-reaching decisions for the company. Yet, creative decisions in marketing often boil down to the executive choice of a single person making their best educated guess about what will work best. The marketing team can then go on to test the individual's hypothesis and iterate around the results to uncover the best communication strategy, but this subjective decision on what to test is rarely efficient or as effective as a more nuanced approach could be.

The problem, Gingiss argues, is not that individuals tasked with these decisions think and operate in a bubble; on the contrary, their decisions are often informed by emerging market research. Rather, Gingiss states that this market research too often focuses on what the customer thinks, and doesn't contextualize that data with what the customer actually does (he cites the fallibility of projected election polling results as prime example of the potential dissonance between how an individual thinks and acts). Customer surveys and focus groups are incredible insights into the consumer psyche that should not be taken for granted, but also should not be considered in a vacuum without any attention to how those customers decide to act.

Ultimately, Gingiss suggests that creative marketers invest more time into understanding why their approaches work, as these insights are more likely to align with how a customer acts. He recommends using advanced analytic tools like multivariate testing and experimental design to create marketing campaigns, which will demonstrate not only what works, but why different aspects of your approach are effective on the audience you are trying to reach.

Customer Experience: A Bandwagon Worth Joining

Customer experience is on everyone's mind and for good reason. According to nearly three-quarters of the more than 8,000 consumers surveyed for Salesforce's third edition of the State of the Connected Customer report, an exceptional customer experience with one company raises their expectations of other companies.

Customer engagement infographic
Click to Enlarge Image

Today, experience with a company is as important to consumers as the quality of product or service they purchase from an organization. In the age of consumer empowerment, customers' new-found agency in the marketplace is driving a demand for ethical, trustworthy brands that build customer relationships founded on personalization, timeliness and connectivity.

The key takeaways from the report revealed that those organizations that excel at customer experience are proactive about customer needs and interests; they anticipate when a consumer might be interested in trying a new product version or be in need of assistance and deliver support before the customer asks for it. They also meet their customers where they are, offering a variety of ways for consumers to connect with a company through platforms like phone support, social media, websites and smartphone apps.

Lastly, organizations meeting the customer experience expectation listen to their consumers, document those interactions and share them broadly across the organization so that no matter which department a customer engages with, they're always speaking to a company representative that has a complete, up-to-date record of the customer's relationship with the company.

How can companies deliver on the increasing customer experience expectations of consumers? One discovery the report made was that consumers expect companies to leverage emerging technology like AI to improve customer engagement.

For those eager to "hop on the customer experience bandwagon" and meet new expectations of consumers, implementing an innovative customer engagement strategy should be followed by careful measurement of the approach's success. In the report's key findings article, recommendations are made for evaluating the effectiveness of a customer experience strategy from a variety of vantage points.

For marketers, measuring client lifetime value can provide invaluable insight on how effectively you're engaging customers. Sales teams shouldn't forsake the value of tracking customer retention as it can often indicate how satisfied a consumer base is with their relationship with your company. From a company-wide perspective, analyzing the effectiveness of cross-functional collaboration can also be a key indicator of how well-positioned your organization is to deliver on today's customer experience expectation.

The report shares many thought provoking discoveries that are worth a read. Is customer experience top-of-mind for you and your team? How do you provide meaningful engagement to your customers?

A Foundation in Trust - Thoughts from Referential's Ryan Quackenbush

Advocacy is all about establishing and nurturing relationships. At Referential, we help our customers build trust and lasting engagements with their existing customer base in order to foster mutually beneficial interactions. Collectively, we have decades’ worth of experience on our team to determine the best course of action for any given situation.

It’s with this as the backdrop that I’d like to tell you a little bit about my first week working here.

Whenever you start a new job, there’s always a level of tension and nerves. You go over scenarios in your head, maybe shop for some new clothes to wear in the “business casual” office, and keep your fingers crossed that you get along with your co-workers. I’m based out of upstate New York, but I went over the above in detail as I flew across the country to San Jose for my first week at Referential, Inc. 

I arrived at the airport fairly early, and upon landing received a message from Helen, my new boss. The text was an enthusiastic “Welcome!” accompanied by a grinning picture of her and two other recently arrived remote employees.


It was the start to a truly immersive first-week experience, unlike any I’d ever been through before nor expect to partake in again. I sent along an appropriate and timely response:

Several other members of the global team and I were picked up by Helen and promptly whisked away to her home for the week – literally. After all, the best way to establish rapport and a relationship with someone is through close interaction; this week proved to be a quick study, in that regard.

Each evening, after working and commuting to the office together, our gracious hosts Helen and David prepared dinner for us, and we would gather around the dining room table to talk about


work and our lives away from Referential. We all speak the language of Customer Advocacy of course but very quickly reached common ground on topics that touched on family, art, music,sports and even politics.

After dessert, we’d move to the lounge for a glass of wine and a few laughs. Quickly, I came to enjoy this most of all, as those that began as strangers quickly became my friends and trusted associates. It also helps that, for the most part, they laughed at my jokes!

Advocacy is, again, all about the establishment and nurturing of a relationship. My hosts for the week certainly walk the walk, as the kinship I sensed between my new team was readily apparent to all. I look forward to learning more as a Referential employee, and I’m grateful to join a team equipped and enthusiastic about teaching.

Verizon Creates a Campaign Based Entirely on Customer Stories

If you tuned into the Oscars in February or have since consumed your share of television commercials, you might have experienced Verizon's recent foray into the wonderful world of customer advocacy. In an ad series titled "Why they chose Verizon", the wireless network provider abandoned its cleverly comical, celebrity-studded approach to advertising to produce a collection of 30-second stories from real-life customers filmed in front of simple white backdrops.

As the half-minute ads play, the audience is introduced not to characters, but to people presenting as themselves, sharing stories from their lived experiences using Verizon's phone services. In one commercial, instead of being greeted with tantalizing statistics about quality of performance, we meet a husband who shares the story of how his phone provider enabled him to contact his wife in the middle of hurricane. In this moment, the audience gains an immediate and tangible understanding of the everyday value the wireless service provider returns to customers. It's a comforting, emotional moment that surely inspires Verizon customers in the audience to feel confident in their phone service while making others wonder what the "reliability" their provider touts means when it matters most.

Andrew McKechnie, Verizon's chief creative officer, shared in this interview: “The sentiment around the campaign is that these are real stories...As the stories come to life, it’s to show we have 130 million customers and they all have a reasons they chose us.”

The campaign is a compelling example of the different response a customer advocacy infused approach to marketing can elicit from an audience. Have you seen any recent commercials that leverage customer advocacy?

A Better Way to Ask for References

Strategic customer advocacy professionals approach customer advocacy as an opportunity to build relationships with customers, not simply ask for favors – an invaluable framework for asking for references shared in this SiriusDecisions blog.

The blog’s author, Amy Bills, teaches us that beforeapproaching customers for a reference, advocacy practitioners should take apause to consider the personal and professional motivations of customer advocates.The blog shares a great example of how leveraging customers’ motivations inrequests for references can morph a company-focused ask into a customer-focusedask that inspires action from advocates and nurtures more intimaterelationships with customers.

In the article, Bills also reminds us of the importance of ensuring program participation is simple for advocates. She shares how keeping in mind customer motivations and using them to structure acts of advocacy so that a customer can engage in those actions they are most interested in (and avoid laborious tasks like PowerPoint production) can improve customer interactions with your advocacy program.

Visit the blog for several other readily actionable tips for personalizing and enhancing your asks for references, and if you decide to put any into action, we’d love to hear about what you learn in the process!

Happy Monday!... Happy Tuesday!...

Jim 1

Jim 1

That was Jim Mooney’s signature greeting and a statement for his philosophy on customer satisfaction: He wanted very happy customers. The advocacy community lost a leader on Saturday when Jim succumbed to a respiratory infection and my heart goes out to his wife and sons, especially because he’d finally stepped out of the business to have more time to spend with them.I came to know Jim very well after the merger of Boulder Logic with RO Innovation, when we saw quite a few joint customers through database transitions: He was thoughtful; listening carefully and coming back with suggestions to keep the customers happy.While we didn’t always agree on everything and had our back-and-forths; I applauded his willingness to try to do right by his customers. He was appreciated and loved by many of them.

Goodbye my friend, you left us far too soon.

Small Businesses, Big Impact

happy-nsbwWe qualify as a small business, per the US Small Business Administration. Their definition of a small business varies by industry, based on NAICS code. For us it’s a business with revenues under $15,000,000. That actually sounds fairly big, but to put it in perspective small businesses with under 20 employees are nearly 90% of all US businesses.  More than half of Americans work for or own a small business and those companies create two thirds of new jobs in the US every year. We are doing our part - we are hiring! Nearly 10 million small businesses are woman owned, as is Referential.  This week is National Small Business Week in the US, give your business to small businesses this week - and every week! Smaller businesses are key to innovation and growth. Learn more here.

Do your passwords put you at risk?

SplashData's fifth annual "Worst Passwords List" report shows people continue to be at risk.  “123456” and “password” again top the list!   “Football” is more popular then “Baseball” and “Dragon” beats “Monkey”.  New, common passwords in 2015 included “welcome”, “princess”, and “starwars”.  “12345678” and “123456789” are both high on the list but not necessarily more secure than the top worst password of “123456” as they are based on the same simple pattern.  Makes you wonder about password choices! So what should you do?  Some simple recommendations from SplashData and others include using a minimum of 8 characters and make sure you mix letters, numbers, and special characters.  Don’t use common words or phrases, even if spelled backwards, and do not use the same password everywhere. If discovered once you are at risk everywhere else it’s used.  Don’t share your passwords, don’t save them to your browser.  Even today it’s still worth repeating those basics.  Finally, consider using a password manager which can save and generate secure passwords for you.

How secure are your passwords?

Do all companies need to differentiate?

In  this post from Gartner, Hank Barnes makes an interesting case.  Do you need to differentiate from your competition?  He contends that in some cases that’s not at all necessary.  Particularly for leading, established vendors.  Those vendors can be ‘good enough’.   He contends if products are ‘good enough’ differences don’t matter and customers will embrace known leaders.  He describes this as neutralizing vs. differentiation.  Do you agree?  The post, and some of the comments, discuss the implications this has for innovation.  Interesting read.

September: National Preparedness Month

During September, National Preparedness Month, we all need to take action to ready ourselves for whatever the future may bring.  Whether natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes or other situations, disaster can hit at any time.  This is a perfect month to  take proactive steps to prepare which could include signing up for local alerts, assembling supplies, checking insurance coverage, planning for emergency communications, reviewing the security of your data, or even conducting drills.  September 30 is America's PrepareAthon!, a day for action planning for emergencies.  If you have more to do to ensure a robust emergency plan take steps on the 30th. and are just two of the many sites full of helpful resources and ideas. Earthquakes are the natural disaster we prepare for.  10:20 am on Oct 20 is the Great ShakeOut.  Visit if you are in an earthquake prone area to learn more about the event and related resources.

Pokémon Go has benefits for us

Pokeman Go
Pokeman Go

You’ve probably heard of it.  Pokémon Go is all the rage.  For those of you not familiar with it, the game allows players to interact with virtual Pokémon as if they are in the real environment. When you find one, the game opens up your phone's camera and you flick a Poké Ball toward the creature to capture it. The game has added billions, yes billions, of dollars to Nintendo’s valuation. It’s not without controversy.  Intent on the game, people have fallen or walked into things.  There has been criticism of the use of certain graveyards and memorials as part of the game, and even reports of crime as people were lured with the thought of Pokémon and then robbed.

For us it has been beneficial.  The game gets people up and walking and if you know Referential you know we value health and encourage exercise.  The part of our team that usually walks the least is now up and about at lunch and breaks.  Not only are they getting steps, they are having fun together.  And those of us who don’t play are enjoying it.  We’re learning the lingo and watching the friendly competition as folks move through the stages.  Who knew a game would have such impact on health and camaraderie!

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, a global event that celebrates women and recognizes their accomplishments in the political, social, economic, and cultural spheres, while also advocating for increased women’s rights and gender equality. I’m proud of Referential’s female staff members, this year I’d like to highlight:

  • Kristy Ward, COO, works tirelessly to ensure that our company runs smoothly, efficiently and delivers optimal impact for our clients.
  • Lynn Watts, Senior Reference Manager, has been with us for 20+ years and continues to ‘go the extra mile’ day in day out to ensure that everyone has the best experience.
  • Regina Dawkins, Reference Manager, is devoted to customer satisfaction and puts in a tremendous effort to train our newer members of staff to meet and exceed our standards of delivery.
  • Alexandra Zaniewski, Communications Specialist, juggles multiple different customer communities to ensure customers receive the latest information from our clients and get highlighted for their acts of advocacy.
  • Diana Mueller, Reference Manager, forges ahead with engaging customers in the DACH region by connecting with them in German; her success stems from her ability to align with them and having a clear understanding of the culture.

I appreciate our diversity and celebrate having these ladies in our company. Thank you!

We're Sponsoring the Summit on Customer Engagement

We’re again sponsoring the Summit on Customer Engagement.  The event is back at the Sofitel Hotel in Redwood City, California.   We’ll see you February 25-26, 2014! The event is for everyone active in customer reference and advocacy.  If you’re new to the field you’ll have access to experts through formal presentations and informal discussion sessions.  Even the experts will learn something new.   The workshops often provide tools and forms that you can put to use right away.  The summit also provides perspectives from experts in related fields such as social media, advisory boards and councils, demand generation, and other topics customer reference program managers need to be informed about.  It’s a great opportunity to meet others in the field and share ideas.

We hope to see you there, make sure to stop by our display.  For more information on the event itself see