Have you ever been surprised to learn your client’s issue was more complicated than you thought? Or what you thought was the issue was something else entirely? It can happen because people struggle to disclose the pertinent details during emotional times. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a simple, repeatable process you could use to get the most out of a client conversation?
Suppose a client comes to you and wants to talk about an issue. Here’s a three-step process to become a perfect listener:
1. Totally focus on the client’s point of view
The first thing to do is be in the moment with the client. Remove or ignore distractions that could hinder the flow of information or make the client uncomfortable. Most people spend their listening time capturing data and thinking of a reply. That’s passive listening. Perfect listeners try and understand what the issue is about, which may not be apparent in the opening dialogue. Use thoughtful questions, perhaps starting with “Could you tell me…?” to guide the conversation. If you don’t guide the conversation it may not get to anyplace meaningful.
2. Ask permission to take notes and take notes
Why take notes? There are a lot of reasons why this is important. Taking notes focuses your mind. It shows you are actively listening and makes you appear engaged and professional. It creates a document of the conversation. It gives the client more time to think and share more information. It increases your retention rate, as most people can’t remember more then three things if they don’t write them down. It can reduce your client’s anxiety by helping you both focus on the facts.
Before starting to take notes, ask your client’s permission. It’s polite and shows respect. It allows them a feeling of control, even though you’re asking the questions and guiding the conversation. It lets skeptical clients know exactly what you’re doing and they almost always will agree because they want you to get it right. When you think you’ve collected all the important information, you should ask something like, “Have we covered every detail important to you?” After a few more details come out, you might ask, “Is there anything else I need to know?” to be sure the client has finished.
3. Summarize the client’s needs and repeat back to get agreement
To further enhance the client’s comfort level, summarize the bullet points you’ve written back to them. There are two potential outcomes and they’re both great. If you’re exactly right, they’ll know you’ve listened to and understood them. If the points need adjusting the client will correct them and you’ll know you’re on the path. Plus, you’re now in a collaborative conversation.
Don’t worry if you’re not always correct when you repeat back the details. The more complicated the issue is and the more emotional a client is, the harder it is for anyone to get it right the first time. That’s why this third step – summarize and repeat back – is so important.
Further, when you summarize and repeat back you’ll get even more important information from the client. You’ve helped them think the issue through and they may have a moment of clarity when the most important details stand out. And this just might give you insight on how to properly and effectively handle the client’s issue. Problem solved.