Most people could listen better than they do, and there’s a huge difference between active listening and kind of/sort of listening. In fact, when people are having a conversation, oftentimes they’re just waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can have their turn. They might be soaking up a little of what the other person is saying, but it’s human nature to start formulating your response—which means you’re only partially listening. This sort of listening may be normal, but as a business owner dealing with online customers, it can also destroy your company.
Listening is your ticket to learning from the mistakes and achievements of others, such as venture capitalist gurus who are eager to help small businesses grow. It’s also how you know what your customers want, how you can do better, and listening gives you an advanced warning if you’re going off track. With active listening, you’ll hear about events that apply to your industry, receiving critical feedback, and your business won't suffer.
Here’s how to really listen and benefit from what your customers are saying:
1. Ditch customer automation
Unless your company grows to be mega sized and you have scores of calls coming in every minute, there’s no need for customer service automation. This technology can come off as distant, uncaring, and cold. No one wants to get stuck in a web of pressing numbers. The first rule of thumb? Make sure well trained, friendly and knowledgeable customer service agents are handling your phones, and any online communication.
2. Put understanding before speed
Few people can perfectly communicate what they mean, need, and want the first time around. With active listening, you need to be able to reiterate what your customers are saying, and let them clarify when necessary, lest you get their information wrong. “What I hear you saying is…” is an example of reiterating a customer’s request, followed by re-stating it in your own words. This can drastically cut down on misunderstandings, and also forces you to listen closely so you can reiterate correctly.
3. Don’t multi-task
If you’re on the phone with a customer, don’t simultaneously be finishing a report or checking your Facebook page. The same goes for when you’re chatting with a customer online. The truth, according to Inc., is that most people can’t multi-task, yet everyone thinks they’re pretty good at it. If you’re doing anything besides listening, you’re not actively listening. You’ll miss things, especially subtleties like tone, which can help your business.
4. Don’t get into a defensive mode
When a customer is angry or frustrated, it’s easy to go on the defense. However, that’s not going to help anybody. Instead, listen to the entirety of what they’re saying and practice empathy. How would you feel if you were in their position? Your goal should be to find a solution that makes your customer happy, not battling them to prove you’re “right.”
5. Practice compartmentalization
It’s pretty tough to actively listen when you’re really thinking about what you’ll get for dinner, the fight with your partner that morning, or worrying about your kid’s homework assignment. Compartmentalizing can be a great thing, especially at work, and it’s something that takes a conscious effort.
6. Read between the lines
People don’t always say what they mean, or mean what they say. Part of the reiteration process is asking the customer if what they really mean is XYZ. This can help you both get on the right track and can bypass a lot of wasted time. Don't be afraid to use the customer's verbiage. Customer: I am so pissed. You: I understand you are pissed. (Not, I hear you saying you are pissed.) Hearing what is said, and understanding the feeling behind what is being said, come from two very different positions in listening.
Listening. It’s an art and a skill that you can practice and master. However, you don't have to be perfect to get a little better each day. Every customer interaction is a chance to put your new skill into practice.