Most business problems are communication problems.
And most communication problems are listening problems.
The way to success in business is by pleasing your customers long term, which means really knowing what they want from you. And too often in business, we get too caught up in selling ourselves, talking and persuading and impressing. We feel that if we just keep talking, everything will be alright.
However, the most active, and beneficial thing you can do for your business is spend more time listening.
Great listening is a skill, and as such has specific techniques to be practiced. It also has wonderful benefits for you as person, and for your business. So, in this article, I will give you 3 listening techniques and 3 benefits you can expect from practicing them.
1) Ask Questions
This seems obvious, but think about it. When was the last time you sat with a client and asked them directly if they were happy with your service and if there was anything else you could do for them? We don’t ask those questions often enough, and the reason is we might be afraid to hear the answer. So we prattle on, never asking for direct feedback.
You can do this through a personal meeting, a phone call, even an online survey. With available technology, you have more than enough opportunity to engage your clients and ask good questions.
Just by virtue of being asked, you will gain the appreciation of your clients. People simply want, and respond well, to being listened to, as the classic Hawthorne study showed, and that act alone goes a long way. You will bond with your clients by listening. Second, you will gain valuable knowledge about pain points they are experiencing or soft spots in your service, information they may not have volunteered. Uncovering this stuff heads off potential disillusionment and client loss.
Reflecting is just what it sounds. After the person to whom you are listening finishes a thought, “reflect” their words back to them. It goes like this: your client has told you about a problem she had with one of your employees. The employee did not follow up as promised, and your client is frustrated. Once she has finished, you say something like, “so what I’m hearing is my employee broke a promise and you feel frustrated, right?” Now that might seem odd at first, but do this and watch what happens. Your client will instantly respond. Reflecting shows you are really listening because you have given the client her own words back to her.
Two specific listening techniques are mirroring and paraphrasing. Think of mirroring like parroting; you simply repeat the words your client used. Paraphrasing is more of a summary of what the client said, in your own words. When you paraphrase, try to capture the meaning of the other person’s words, not just the words themselves.
In a word, clarity. Just by hearing their own words coming out of someone else’s mouth helps the client clarify what s/he meant to say, which is crucial. You don’t want to just take your client’s words on face value and misunderstand what they are really trying to say. Here’s how it goes: Let’s use the example from above; your employee failed to follow up. Your client might say, “Joe said he would follow up and I never heard back.” You paraphrase: “So Joe was supposed to get back to you at a specific time, and he didn’t?”
The client might then say, “Well, no. We never set a specific time. I just need a little more feedback from you all. I’m spending a lot of money here and I just want to make sure things are moving along.” Now you know the real issue. If you had stopped without reflecting, you would have chewed Joe out for breaking a promise he never made. Your client needs reassurance and more regular communication, that’s all.
Get good at reflecting, and two great things are going to happen for your business. First, your clients will love and refer the heck out of you and, second, you will notice a considerable decline in communication snafus between you and your clients.
3) Make changes and follow up
If what you are hearing from your clients is legit, make changes and meet their needs. Again, this is one of those not-so-common common sense moves. Business people are a prideful bunch and tend to be defensive (more than the average person) about taking criticism, but if you actually incorporate what your people are telling you, it is a win-win. You get better and your clients know you were actually listening to them.
Also, follow up. If you took a recommendation from a client and incorporated that change, send him/her a note of thanks. Nothing will please them more. It is these little touches that make for stellar business/client relationships (more on that here).
When people see you are really trying hard to listen to their concerns, your customer loyalty will go through the roof. Also, clients will give you lots of leeway on future projects if things don’t go as planned. By actively listening and then responding in meaningful ways to client feedback, you make them a real part of your business; they invest in your success. Think of it as consultants who actually pay you.
So listening, though many think it a passive exercise, is in reality one of the most active endeavors you can undertake to grow your business and build customer love and loyalty. Try these techniques and let me know how they work for you. I’d love to listen to your stories…
Thanks for reading.