Listening To Your Customers With The Five Digital Senses

In person-to-person conversations, we listen and influence others based on our five senses. Online companies should similarly listen to their customers with the five digital senses. Here’s what they are and how to gauge them to better serve your audience.


After a one-day course I teach on “influence,” participants often comment that they are surprised it took so long to get what they came for. They signed up to learn how to convince people, how to shape others’ perceptions, how to make more conversations go the way they want them to go. Yet, in this course, we spend 75% of our time learning listening techniques. The reason is simple: To rephrase Sun Tzu, “Know the other person and know yourself and a thousand conversations will go your way.”

Great influencers are great listeners, deep listeners. They suck in information from all senses and sources. I met President Obama once. He walked out of a room where we were holding an event, shook my hand, and asked a few questions about me. He seemed fully present to what I was saying, as if there were no one else in the room. He will probably not remember the exchange, but at the moment, if he wanted to convince me of something, I believe he would know have known precisely what to say.

It is like throwing an apple out of a car window. I was driving my kids to the park one day, eating an apple. When I finished, I thought it better to toss the biodegradable apple into the woods rather than into a plastic bag. I rolled down the passenger-side window, threw the apple, and was startled by a loud thud. Peering over to the passenger window, I saw it was now covered in apple bits. I had rolled down the wrong window (the backseat passenger window instead of the front). This is what it’s like to try to influence people before listening well. Each person you meet has one window open, and one button to control it. If you pick the window correctly, your message will fly right through and you will get what you want. But if you throw your message without proper preparation, it may never get through.

Listening for context is a fundamental requisite of influence, yet websites mostly ignore it. When you step into a store, the sales person picks up on clues about your dress, how you got there, how rushed you are, to make an educated guess as to how to move you toward a sale. But log on to that same store’s web site and they have no clue as to any of these factors.

An interesting web content management company I came across recently is looking to change that. Ektron is flourishing. It is growing at 18% per year and reported growing its license revenue last quarter by 40%. It clients include Western Union, Wendy’s International, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, Time Warner Cable, Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and the USGA. What it claims to do is help these organizations’ websites listen, understand the context that their visitors are coming from, and then deliver just the right content to each person.

I got a chance to speak with Bill Rogers, Ektron’s founder and CEO, to answer the question “How do you listen and influence online?”


This is a question I am eager to answer. As I redesign my website in preparation for my book launch, I want to do everything in my power to develop strong online relationships with my readers.

In person-to-person conversations, we listen and influence ultimately with our five senses. Buddhists have a great framework called the Five Aggregates that describes the process by which the senses link to action. I wrote about this in my last book, The Way of Innovation. Ektron believes that online companies should similarly listen with the five digital senses:

1. Past online behavior: What websites has the customer visited and what purchases have they made?

2. Environment/physical location: Are users reaching you with a mobile phone while standing in line in an airport, or are they sitting leisurely at home in front of a desktop?

3. Traffic source/keywords: What site did they come from, and what keywords did they search for to get to your site?

4. Customer data from inside your ERP system: Have they visited you before and, if so, what do you know about them (e.g., age, address, frequency of visits)?


5. Social networks: Who are they connected with online and what do they share or talk about?

Few websites are able to listen from all fives sources. Doing so requires tapping multiple sources of information and weaving together a holistic picture of your visitor. Only then will you have a good chance of picking just that perfect message, sharing that ideal piece of content, that will move them from visitor to loyal customer. 

To avoid smashing apples into windows, help your website listen more effectively. Ask:

1. What is my visitor’s past online behavior?

2. What environment are they logging in from?

3. Where did they come from (what is the traffic source)?


4. What do I already know about them (from my ERP system)?

5. Who are they connected to through social networks?

[Image: Flickr user Lady/Bird]


About the author

Author of Outthink the Competition business strategy keynote speaker and CEO of Outthinker, a strategic innovation firm, Kaihan Krippendorff teaches executives, managers and business owners how to seize opportunities others ignore, unlock innovation, and build strategic thinking skills. Companies such as Microsoft, Citigroup, and Johnson & Johnson have successfully implemented Kaihan’s approach because their executive leadership sees the value of his innovative technique. Kaihan has delivered business strategy keynote speeches for organizations such as Motorola, Schering‐Plough, Colgate‐Palmolive, Fortune Magazine, Harvard Business Review, the Society of Human Resource Managers, the Entrepreneurs Organization, and The Asia Society