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Customer delight  is a major goal for every business.  Happy customers build credibility.  Unhappy customers are bad news.  Here’s the challenge, for every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent.*  I know you’re busy, but are you actually listening?  If you are, you can prevent many problems and solve others faster.

When establishing a relationship with a new client, planning a project, or following up after the sale, active listening is a must.  What does this look like?  It usually means putting down the cell, pausing your busy schedule, and tuning out distractions to focus on what they want to say.

“The word ‘listen‘ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent‘.”  ― Alfred Brendel

Typically we only remember about 25-50% of what we hear.  That makes paying attention more important than ever.  Here are a few strategies to improve your listening skills and help your customers have a reason to smile:

  1. Leave the phone in your pocket.  That’s self-explanatory, but a big deal.  The person you are talking to is more important in this moment.
  2.  Maintain eye contact.  Don’t have a staring contest, but be present with the speaker.
  3. Get the facts.  When appropriate, make notes so you can recap later to make sure you understand details and concerns.
  4. Let the customer finish what they want to say.  Don’t assume you know what they are thinking.  Wait until they are finished and clarify.
  5. Note emotions, tone, pitch and volume.  These indicate what’s really important to the person speaking.
  6. Watch non-verbal communication.  Are they relaxed?  Leaning in?  Wide open and excited?  or Resistant?
  7.  Stay engaged.  If it helps, change positions, set up straighter, or ask a question when there is a lull.

The art of listening well sets you on the right path from the beginning of your relationship and reduces complaints later.   Although the customer may not always be right, acknowledging their thoughts are important is pivotal to trust and relationship building.  Your expertise may tell you another direction or plan would be better, but understanding clearly where they are coming from can help you approach potential conflicts with insight and diplomacy.

“People love to talk but hate to listen. Listening is not merely not talking, though even that is beyond most of our powers; it means taking a vigorous, human interest in what is being told us. You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer.”  ― Alice Duer Miller

The art of active listening can be developed and is worth a little effort on our part.  Start practicing today.  It will make a big difference in your relationships on every level.

*Source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs

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Carolyn is a business manager and partner at 17blue Digital Agency.