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Listen without prejudice: Joakim Leijon

Joakim Leijon, CEO and Founder, Whispr Group

The state of communication in today’s corporate world is a cacophony of sound and fury as companies strive to have their voices reach consumers who’ve heard it all before. Social media has only served to amplify the dissonance. But just as improved communication can repair a less-than-solid personal relationship, so too can it strengthen the bond between business and customer – and one big-data insight firm suggests a novel first step: turn down the volume and simply listen.

Joakim Leijon, Whispr Group

Listening, Whispr Group Founder and CEO Joakim Leijon believes, is in danger of becoming a lost art.

“It certainly seems that way, with social media feeding the ego and the ‘me, me, me’ mentality,” he says. “However, our clients give me hope that it’s not the case; they’re very interested in listening and learning from their customers.”

And for good reason: customers can be a company’s best brand ambassadors. “The value lies in turning huge volumes of data into actionable insights and creating a narrative that the company can unite around,” Joakim says. “Done right, companies get a direct feedback loop from their customers that can help to constantly optimise their company.”

Whispr Group, with offices in New York, Stockholm and Oslo, is an AI-powered insights company that provides exactly that kind of opportunity. Founded by Joakim in 2009, Whispr Group gathers data from a variety of sources to deliver a comprehensive portrait of a brand, including its customers, products, markets and competitors. The initiative stemmed from Joakim’s own entrepreneurial highs and lows.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart,” he tells. “While some ventures were successful and some were not, I took all of that experience – especially my failures – and channeled it into Whispr Group.”

As is so often the case, Joakim says failure – or at least failure to engage – stems from not listening enough.

“I was so tired of going to meetings with companies that just wanted more efficient ways of communicating about themselves rather than listening to their consumers,” he says. “I wanted to build a venture that brought the consumer’s voice directly to the ears of big business. It’s still baffling to me that most companies don’t listen closer.”

Since its inception over a decade ago, Whispr Group has worked with some of the biggest brands on the planet, from McDonald’s and Volkswagen to Spotify and Uber. According to Joakim, the insights industry is definitely a place where size matters.

“In big business, the noise is louder than ever and it’s impossible to hear anything at all if you don’t know what you’re listening for,” he says. “We make a point of understanding our key stakeholders within the company so we’re able to determine what’s relevant to them.”

To do this, Joakim’s approach is to get the right team on board. “Finding the right people and translating my vision of the company into something that deeply motivates everyone beyond monetary incentives has been my greatest challenge,” he says. “I give them tons of responsibility, autonomy and clear goals. I let them know I have their back when they really need it, and they can make mistakes without me judging. Then I step back and let them reach their full potential.”

“It’s impossible for big businesses to hear anything if they don’t know what they’re listening for.”

Joakim Leijon, Whispr Group

Joakim’s relaxed, inclusive leadership philosophy has inspired a culture within Whispr Group that has benefits not just for staff but for clients.

“Our culture is key in everything we do,” he says. “It’s warm, friendly and non-hierarchical, it’s passionate, driven and goal-oriented. Our employees also hang out a lot together outside of work, which I think is a good sign.”

Whispr Group also has a firm belief in rewarding hard work; the team enjoys up to 10 weeks’ vacation most years. “It’s a no-brainer, really,” Joakim says. “We know freedom and time to relax make people happy and calm. The happier our employees are, the longer they stay at the company, the better they perform and the better results they achieve for our clients. We also don’t have fixed hours, so everyone can work when they feel like it.”

The work itself sees the Whispr Group team closely aligned with developments in natural language processing (NLP), a subfield of computer science and artificial intelligence, which allows computers to process and analyse large amounts of natural language data. “Our analysts are very quick to learn new technologies,” Joakim says. “It’s really cool what we can do with open-source algorithms for pretraining neural network-based NLP systems such as Google’s BERT or Facebook’s RoBERTa.”

The team’s custom NLP systems work harmoniously with Whispr Group’s insights platform to deliver invaluable insight reports on customer opinions, feedback and trends in clear, very human language. “We believe in the power of harnessing smart analysts, utilising our algorithms and software as an exoskeleton to deliver better and more accurate insights for our clients. We try to truly empower decision-making.”

In the age of total communication, customers are constantly sounding off; Joakim believes great success is possible for businesses prepared to lend an ear.

“The insights industry has gone from being predominantly research-based and mostly qualitative to becoming a real-time direct line of quantitative feedback from all consumers to companies. It’s crazy how much it’s changed and the value it brings now,” he says. “I wish more people and companies would listen more than they speak.”

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