Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Listening. A new fad.

We live in a world where most everyone is nose down in a smart phone or tablet with Wi-Fi available everywhere, even in seemingly the most remote of locations. It’s unfathomable to be disconnected from the “world”, yet ironically, this practice actually disconnects us from the people who are actually present in our space. It’s not just individuals who are guilty of this. Individuals bring this personal practice into their business and it trickles down to customers. Concurrently, much emphasis is focused on growth and staying ahead of the curve that it has taken away from the principal that many businesses were founded for their customers. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if companies put down the proverbial smart phone and dedicated time to really listen? Universally, customers want to feel a sense of reliability, responsiveness, empathy, competency, and last but not least being valued. All of these are achieved through active listening. So many customers feel discouraged from dialogue on their service experience because the service agents they interact with are not present.

Stella Service, Elite rated companies like Apple & Zappos are hitting the mark. Zappos recorded an epic 10 hour phone call with one customer! While that’s a bit extreme, it speaks volumes about their approach to service. These companies are successful largely because they understand that a customer centric outlook is paramount. They understand that one of the simplest (as well as incredibly cost efficient…) ways to achieve this is active listening and follow through. They take the time to liaise with customers to understand how they really feel.

TARP, research firm concluded that every 1 customer who has a complaint will share it with 10 others. These 10 will go on to further share with 5 others. A single complaint quickly impacts up to 50 people! The good news is, it’s entirely possible to avoid this by active listening. It may even be possible to detect concerns even if customers aren’t actively voicing them. TARP also concluded that for every customer who verbalizes a complaint, a whopping 26 more remain silent.

Getting back to basics – listening 101:

Ø  Be ready! How can you actively listen if you are searching for a notebook & pen, or texting?
Ø  Take notes. Details, details, details.
Ø  Be responsive. Let them know you are still present without taking over.
Ø  Match their emotion. If they are in a panic, show a sense of urgency.
Ø  Be positive or factual. Don’t color the dialogue with negative feelings. If you are negative, they will surely be too.
Ø  Be respectful. Don’t interrupt or assume you know what they are about to say.
Ø  Ask questions. Ensure you understand their needs.
Ø  Paraphrase. Demonstrating not just paying attention, but active thinking & reasoning.
Ø  Take action! The best way to show listening is to follow through on the customer’s needs. Actions always speak louder than words.

Active listening supports solid communication which leaves customers feeling appreciated and overall strengthens your long term relationship. It can often help resolve or avoid conflicts and misunderstandings entirely. The information we harvest by listening can even allow us to take a step further and not only resolve conflicts, but ensure that we are applying the right solution. Equally important to making the problem go away, is ensuring that we’ve solved it correctly. This might be an opportunity to think creatively about what the customer is saying to find a solution that works best for them and is also cost efficient for your business. 

“Listen. You don't learn anything by talking. Listening makes for good business and it makes for good friends.” — Liz Robbins