By Shawn Moon
To interact effectively with customers, you must first understand them. Unfortunately, few people are skilled or trained to listen in a way that promotes connection and confidence. Too often, customers can see through ineffective listening and feel manipulated, ultimately holding in reserve their loyalty.
When we fail to listen properly, the environment becomes ripe for poor assumptions and misunderstandings. This erodes trust and makes earning customer loyalty nearly impossible. Active, Empathic Listening allows us to learn the real needs of customers and can touch on one of the greatest human needs: to feel understood.
Here are a few simple practices for effective listening to earn deep customer loyalty:
- Stay silent until the person has finished talking.
- Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart.
- Don’t worry about how to answer—focus on understanding.
- Rephrase what was said and check for understanding.
Stay Silent Until the Person Has Finished Talking
Keeping quiet until another person has completely finished talking takes discipline. But it can be mastered with practice, and it goes a long way toward communicating to the other person that we genuinely care about their thoughts and feelings.
Listen With Your Ears, Eyes, and Heart
When we say, “listen with your heart,” we mean you grasp the feeling as well as the content of what is said, and this behavior is rooted in empathy. If you listen only with the ears, you get content, but you might not get feeling. If you also listen with the eyes and the heart, you will hear not only what is said, but how it is meant.
Don’t Worry About How to Answer—Focus on Understanding
In building customer loyalty, we also want to get the other person to talk, because that’s the only way we can learn their hidden stories. Whether it’s their social conditioning, shyness, time pressure, or distraction, customers don’t often chatter during simple transactions.
So how do we create opportunities for people to talk? It’s usually pretty simple. Ask them a question. In fact, asking the right question will not only spark conversation but will allow us to listen to learn. There are three categories of questions we can use to spark conversation with our customers: simple, open, and burning questions.
- Ask simple, friendly questions. “What’s the occasion?” “What are you thinking of doing with this [product]?” Make the question as easy and sincere as you can in order to get the story.
- Ask open questions, not closed or yes/no questions. If you ask yes/no questions, that’s all you’ll get: yes or no. It doesn’t invite conversation. Don’t ask, “Got a project going?” That’s a yes/no. Instead ask, “What kind of project are you doing?” Now you’re into a conversation.
- Ask “burning” questions. Burning questions are those that are likely to be important, critical, and urgent. For example, “What’s the biggest challenge you’re having with your deck?” “Could you share a few more of your thoughts about this?”
Serving customers isn’t about making idle conversation. Customers typically don’t want idle chitchat. But they deeply appreciate our willingness to listen to show empathy.
Rephrase What Was Said and Check for Understanding
We want to get people talking. And once we open the conversation, it makes no sense to shut it down after a few seconds. We’re listening to learn, so instead of imposing a solution on them right away, continue the conversation through Empathic Listening. Empathic Listening is the skill of reflecting both the content of the person’s concern and the feeling he or she has about it.
Reflecting what the other person says in your own words will give insight into both feelings and content of what’s being said. A customer could come to you angry or excited about a purchase. A colleague could come to you frightened or enthusiastic about an upcoming change in the business. Observe how they feel and really listen to what they are saying. Then reflect what they’ve said in your own words.
We might be hesitant to enter a conversation with an associate or a customer because we are uncertain where the conversation will go. Is this customer going to dump details of their divorce on me? Will my colleague bring up yet another problem? Will the person in front of me ask me a question I have no clue how to answer? With regard to loyalty, the richer the conversation, the more loyalty is built. Instead of worrying about the potential outcome, just ask the question and see where it goes.
Listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. We look out through it, we see the world the way they see the world, we understand their paradigm, we understand how they feel. If our goal is to build and maintain loyalty, we must empathise, connect, and listen to learn the other person’s concerns or needs. The skill of listening to learn allows us to gain rich information about our customers and team members. We’re better able to help them and increase the trust in our relationships.
Leader Application–the Practice of Listening to Learn
The impact of not listening is massive- not only in terms of culture, employee loyalty, and employee engagement, but there’s a price we pay in innovation, collaboration, and problem-solving when our people talk and we don’t hear.
Being a leader is a unique experience. The executive team looks to you to solve problems. Your team looks to you for answers. We’re paid to get the job done, and there’s an assumption that we have all the answers. So it’s easy to default into telling rather than listening. But listening, as we’ve discussed in this article, is the key to understanding our employees and customers, and is an essential step to earning their loyalty.