Consumer voices are everywhere in this connected world, but listening and interpreting those voices often proves difficult according to a new report by the CMO Council. Marketers often rely too much on passive responses, make assumptions about their consumers or simply forget there is a person on the receiving end of a campaign.

The CMO Council partnered with Harte Hankes to explore the ways in which customer voices are elevated in the marketing process. An online audit was conducted in the second half of 2018 and 152 senior marketing executives participated. Findings of the audit were published on Tuesday in a report called “Bringing a Human Voice to Customer Choice.”

Participating marketers agreed that making assumptions about a consumer weakens the foundation of a relationship. When asked to name the biggest relationship-building challenge, the most popular response—at 41 percent—was remembering that they are building relationships, “not just deploying campaigns.”

In addition to remembering the relationship, 29 percent admit that they struggle to remember that a customer is actually human as opposed to just an inbox or target.

Some of this disconnect may be attributed to the way in which marketers do listen to their customers. The audit found that a majority of marketers lean on tried and true methods of gaining customer insight such as email and form submissions, but are trading comfort for a lack of real-time behavioral cues.

While reactionary posts such as complaints allow a brand to react quickly, they rarely provide a real-time view into intentions, behaviors, needs or even aspirations, explains the CMO Council.

“They are postcards of a customer’s life when marketers are looking for a real-time movie.”

There may be another reason for huddling in the narrow comfort zone of reactionary customer feedback—being proactive means having to understand massive amounts of data. Nearly a third of marketers consider Big Data to be their top challenge, while 34 percent name dark data. Thirty-six percent say the greatest challenge will be aggregating, analyzing and utilizing small data.

Small data may offer “micro-moments of opportunity” to marketers, but only 10 percent of respondents believe their organization is fully prepared to take advantage of them. Likewise, just 36 percent of respondents consider themselves “fairly prepared” to implement points of connection across the Internet of Things (IoT), but not entirely confident in their ability to act in real time.

“Marketers have made the connection between growth and profitability and the ability to reach, engage and build relationships with customers,” observes the CMO Council. “Building a relationship can often start by asking a simple question and then having the patience and maturity to step back and listen to the answer.”

The findings of this study mirror sentiments and observations made in the 2018 report, “Turn Up The Volume: Rethinking Where and How Customer Voice Enhances Experience.”

While the report focused on social media, it concluded that the same number (150) of European marketers aren’t listening to consumers in a way that would build lasting relationships. Just 27 percent said they actively listen for the voice of the customer, while another 36 percent listen with a limited scope.