Listen to the Voice of the Customer

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David Gergen knows a lot about leadership. He’s a senior political analyst at CNN and former adviser to four U.S. presidents. He is also the author of The New York Times best-selling book Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton. So when he speaks, people listen. During Gergen’s opening keynote presentation at SpeechTEK in August, however, he maintained that there should be more of that—listening, that is.

Gergen urged organizations to learn from the successes and failures of the U.S. presidents whom he served. One of the driving points of his presentation was that leaders who do not effectively listen to the people they serve will do so at their own peril. President Nixon is a case in point. 

On the surface, many know that the Watergate scandal forced Nixon out of office, but why did it happen in the first place? Gergen, who wrote Nixon’s letter of resignation, said lack of trust was the president’s downfall. “He broke the bonds of trust. He did not listen to his constituents. He was autocratic. As a result, when things went wrong, he had no support out there and it crumbled on him very, very quickly.”

Gergen’s overarching message to executives is to listen first, then lead. “If you want to lead well, if you want to be able to mobilize others, you have to be willing to listen to them,” Gergen said. (For more on his keynote presentation, read the story “At SpeechTEK 2011, Keynoter David Gergen Calls for Leadership,” by Brittany Farb.)

As an example, Gergen drew on King Henry the Fifth’s speech prior to the Battle of Agincourt in the Hundred Years War. The night before the beleaguered English army was to battle the much larger and more rested French army, King Henry the Fifth walked in disguise among his troops, listening and talking to his soldiers. The next morning, he delivered a speech that motivated his soldiers to defeat the French army. The spirit of his speech was re-created in Shakespeare’s play The Life of King Henry the Fifth and became “one of the most inspiring speeches in all of English literature,” Gergen said. King Henry the Fifth’s ability to motivate the soldiers “stems from that evening when he went out among the people and listened to what they had to say,” Gergen added.

When it comes to business, this point is as applicable as ever. Speech technology professionals have an opportunity to help their leaders glean valuable customer information from the IVR systems that they build. But, if left unchecked, IVR systems will degrade over time. Often tuning and patchwork can solve many of the problems, but the older a system gets, the harder it is to repair. So, it’s important to know the typical signs of an aging IVR that has exceeded its stage of usefulness. Turn to our cover story, “How to Know When Your Speech System is Too Old,” for some clues. Otherwise, if you let your IVR get too old, you’ll be out of luck. And, you probably won’t have much success getting David Gergen to write your resignation letter.

Editorial Director David Myron can be reached @dmyron on Twitter or via email at dmyron@infotoday.com.

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