Listening to Customers: A Roadmap for Employing Active Listening Skills
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Analyze any human conflict, no matter its severity, and chances are you'll find poor communication at the heart of the problem. Good, high-quality communication is the bedrock on which we build interpersonal relationships. Tight-knit families practice clear and effective communication. Friendships are made on the exchange of ideas. But effective communication isn't solely limited to personal interactions. This is where listening to customers comes in.
Proper communication is a crucial element in the business world as well. According to a 2019 Forbes article, companies that put the customer experience first are 60% more profitable than their competitors. On the other side of the aisle, 73% of customers cite their experience as the primary driver for brand loyalty. Clear communication is a crucial factor in the success of your business. But one component, in particular, unites both the company and customer point of view: actively listening to customers.
Below, we've compiled a crash course in the importance —and the execution— of listening to customers. Brands that employ a business strategy that involves active listening as their core tenants stand to reap greater rewards in the long run.
What is Active Listening?
Go to a public place like a restaurant, park, or coffee shop and observe the surrounding conversations. If you listen long enough, you'll see people talking anecdotally toward one another. They take advantage of pauses in the conversation to launch platitudes like “Yup!” or “Right” to prove they are listening. What you're seeing is the polar opposite of active listening. This type of communication is equivalent to waiting for your next turn to speak. It is full of disjointed conversation and non sequiturs. The bottom line? Passive listening is not a good foundation for interpersonal relationships.
On the other hand, active listening involves a mix of patience, attention, and interest. It involves slowing down the flow of the conversation and denying your urge to answer the other party's statements immediately. The majority of your responses should be strategic checks for understanding. Your responses should be phrased in the form of open-ended questions meant to augment the conversation. Actively listening to customers requires deliberate effort and intellectual integrity. And while not everyone is good at active listening by default, it's a skill that can be developed with practice.
Active Listening Self-Assessment
Are you an active or passive listener? To help gauge your listening style and abilities, ask yourself these key questions:
- Do you ask questions rather than making statements?
- Are you listening attentively or just waiting for your next chance to speak?
- Can you read between the lines and infer the customer's meaning and intent?
- Do you focus solely on what the customer says verbally rather than body language and unspoken communication?
- Is your conversation focused on you and your company rather than the customer and their needs?
- Do you strategically structure your speech to keep the conversation going? Or do you employ non-sequiturs to hurry the exchange along?
Concepts like these lie at the heart of active listening. Exercising a sense of control, pacing, as well as deliberateness in your interpersonal exchanges can be a game-changer for your business.
The Importance of Listening to Customers in the Business Environment
According to a recent Hubspot Article, a staggering 82% of customers will abandon their relationship with a brand after a bad customer experience. That's why it is so important to address issues promptly when our customers bring them to us. Every customer complaint has one thing in common: a need to be heard and truly understood in the face of the corporate culture. Helping people feel heard begins by listening to customers with the goal of hearing and understanding.
In that regard, actively listening to your clients is an essential business strategy because it reduces potential customer churn while building a solid relationship. In turn, the relationship will eventually flourish into brand loyalty, given a continued fidelity to hearing and understanding your customers. Other benefits of an active listening strategy include:
- Increasing revenue through meaningful upsells
- Continuous improvement to the customer experience your brand provides
- Better brand reputation through word-of-mouth advertising
- The accumulation of actionable data to drive future marketing efforts
When you listening to customers, you can more effectively meet their needs. Once you've done that, you can spend more time revenue building and less time putting out fires.
Techniques to Help You Become a Better Listener
Active listening is an essential element to the overall customer experience. Taking the time —and effort— to truly hear what your customers are saying will pay dividends further down the line. But how do you encourage better listening skills amongst your brand ambassadors?
You begin simply by listening in earnest. For many, the first step is the hardest. While it sounds simple on paper, the execution can be brutal, especially for customer success representatives working in a hectic call center environment. By listening, we mean listening without any intention other than to hear your customer. Don't wait for your turn to speak or follow a flow chart of acceptable troubleshooting responses. Listen to connect with that person's core need and better address their frustrations.
Not all customers are created equally. Some customers prefer to air grievances face to face in a brick-and-mortar location. Others seek information via phone, while another subset prefers the anonymity of the internet. Your active listening schema must take a multi-channel approach to meet —and validate— each customer at their particular point in the purchasing journey.
While listening is the critical component of active listening, there comes the point where it's appropriate to respond. A good rule of thumb is to check your understanding before you offer a solution. Try rephrasing and repeating the customer's concerns back to them before continuing. This proves that you're not only hearing what they have to say but absorbing it as well.
Finally, always seek to validate the customer behind the concern. Addressing their complaint, situation, or inquiry is one part of customer service and an essential part of that. But never forget the person behind the question. Active listening involves identifying underlying emotions and working to resolve those as well as any surface problems.
You can't please everyone all the time. However, employing active listening as part of your customer service strategy will help bolster your brand's prosperity in the long run.
If you need help in establishing effective marketing strategies for your business, visit our website today. Find out how Viral Solutions can help you with your marketing needs.