The Art of Listening: A Key to Customer-Centricity

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Curiosity is the key to great listening skills that improve customer experience. When you’re truly curious about your customer’s opinions, expectations and requests, you’ll find the customer to be more pleasant, interesting and fulfilling to you as well.

Consider internal customers as well as external customers in honing this skill. Internal customers are recipients of the business process you manage. You’ve heard the phase: it’s what’s on the inside that counts … I believe the customer-facing folks are ultimately only as good as the non-customer-facing folks allow them to be. True colors of company culture eventually find their way to the customer experience.

Get Over Me-Focused Listening!
It’s easy to tell yourself you’re listening when in reality you’re focused on yourself. Whenever you worry about and think about what to say next, you’re not focused on the customer. Whenever you feel bored or compelled to end the discussion, you’re probably focused on your own agenda. If you feel a sense of urgency to fix the situation or person or circumstances, you’re probably more interested in serving yourself rather than the customer.



Practice Customer-Focused Listening Skills
It’s really pretty simple to be customer-focused. Be curious!

1) Allow yourself to wonder what the customer’s world is like.

2) Focus on the customer’s body language as much as his/her words. At least 80% of communication is non-verbal.

3) Clear the clutter in your own mind, and do not let yourself be distracted while your customer is communicating with you.

4) Try to understand the reason why the customer is saying what he/she is saying. Did you know that 95% of thought, emotion and learning occur in the subconscious mind? If you’re having trouble comprehending the customer’s message, ask for a metaphor — this is the quickest way to tap into the subconscious and ‘get on the same page’.

5) Verify your interpretation with the customer before jumping to conclusions. Check to see that your interpretation of the customer’s message is correct, and after you explain something to your customer, check to see that their interpretation of your message is correct.



The Personal Touch Goes a Long Way
We’re in the information age, where abbreviations, slang, and short-messaging are the norm in our communications. Yet, in business, a return to more formal communication really pays off. Don’t risk mis-understanding others, or being mis-understood by cutting corners in your listening habits. A little patience can give you the ability to re-assure your customer that you truly understand him/her. In these times, this ability may be very important in differentiating your customer service to keep the customer coming back, to purchase more from your company rather than others.

Think about your own favorite experiences as a customer: upon reflection, you’ll find that there’s nothing more powerful than feeling heard, and getting the response you need in a timely and pleasant way. By improving your curiosity level with customers, you’ll find that you enjoy your work more, and customers enjoy their experience with your organization. In the meantime your improved knowledge of your internal and/or external customers will enable you to develop a sixth sense, to anticipate customer needs and to consistently delight your customers.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Lynn,

    Thx for a very nice post. My thoughts are that listening is not only A key, I think it is the Master Key. No matter what you want to do, innovate or improve, it requires listening to your Customer’s needs first.

    In these times there are lots techniques available to capture the voice of the Customer, but none of them will bring you the desired results if you do not act upon what you have learned. Even the newest kid on the block, Social Media, will not make you a good listener.

    Your post provides some excellent suggestions to avoid the pitfalls of listening.

    With highest regards,

    Wim Rampen

  2. Hi Wim,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment and link to your blog post on social media and listening. Recently I’ve realized that even the most sincere efforts through satisfaction surveys and other customer experience monitoring methods are often more inward-focused by the sponsoring companies than outward-focused on truly listening to customers. In a conversation with a friend, would it not seem weird if he asked a lot of question about himself, rather than asking you about your satisfaction relating to your circumstantial expectations? Re-thinking listening on both personal and research levels seems like a wise idea!
    Best regards,
    Lynn

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See http://www.ClearAction.biz, http://www.Twitter.com/ClearAction, http://Facebook.dj/customerexperience.

  3. Hi Lynn,

    Exactly how I see it.. That’s also why I, like yourself, like an outcome driven approach towards Voice of the Customer e.a. Whatever way you are listening or requesting feedback, it should be based on, and aimed at, better understanding how you are helping your Customers meet their desired outcomes.

    p.s. from a terminology perspective I favor outside-in over outward-focused.., but I think we are talking the same language here..

    Thanks for getting back & keep up the good posts. I’m a fan.

    Wim

  4. Great post and discussion Lynn and Wimm – I like the 5 step approach to better listening. It seems like there many companies that could benefit from that both externally (supplier to customer) and internally (employee to employee).

    A colleague also recently added this additional point related to listening to customers with a personal touch:
    http://bit.ly/3F2zLM

    The personal touch is key!

    Truly listening and following through on improving is going to be a critical step for companies to rebuild trust as the economy rebounds.

    Best,

    Nick Wassenberg
    twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nick_wassenberg
    http://www.eginsight.com/news

  5. Lyn,

    I do like your post. It makes very good sense. In particular I’d endorse the idea of getting verification that you understand what has just been said. The difficulty with this is that you do need pick from a variety of approaches. If you keep using the expression
    “What I hear you saying is….. “, you run the risk of sounding like a 1990’s hack therapist.

    I teach graduate school students and being able to listen carefully to questions and comments was a key skill in the classroom. I expect them to listen carefully to me too!

    On a more contentious note, do you think that listening is gendered? Are women better listeners than men? Or do men and women listen with different levels of attentiveness to different topics of conversation?

  6. Hello Lynn
    I have read your article and all the comments with great interest. I teach telephone sales and customer service skills and find that listening is the one thing that many people are very bad at. Many people, specially when on the phone, think they can multi-task and listen. This is not so (even for Women) Listening is a task that needs your whole undivided attention. All the other things that have been said are also correct and confirmation of understanding is very important. However you wont even do this effectively unless you have listened very carefully in the beginning both to the words and the paralanguage.
    Regards, Ann Mayer

  7. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for the link – good post. I think people inside companies will master this only when they master it in their personal lives as well. Could be great for families and for our society at-large. A friend of mine from graduate school recently wrote a book on this: Why Loyalty Matters: The Groundbreaking Approach to Rediscovering Happiness, Meaning & Lasting Fulfillment in Your Life & Work.

    People who don’t deal directly with customers may appreciate my customer experience post titled ‘Everybody Has a Customer’. I view my family members and friends as my customers, too, although I do admit I’m not yet perfect in my personal management of customer relationships!

    -Lynn

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See ClearAction.biz, Twitter.com/ClearAction, Facebook.dj/customerexperience.

  8. Hi Francis,

    Good questions. I’m not so sure that gender plays trump in listening. Certainly, different personality types listen with different levels of attentiveness to different topics of conversation. My favorite resource on that topic is The Art of Dialogue, by Carolyn Zeisset, a well-known expert in personality type. (by the way, I’m incoming president of the Bay Area Association for Psychological Type, baapt.org)

    Two inspiring books I’ve come across about good question skills (an essential part of good listening skills, of course) are: The Seven Powers of Questions, and Smart Questions: The Essential Strategy for Successful Managers, both by Dorothy Leeds.

    I guess I’ve got to say, why didn’t they include this stuff in my MBA program? Well, that was the 80s. We know now that customers expect two-way dialogue in the sales and customer service and sentiment monitoring processes. Reality TV, web 2.0, smart phones, and the information age have conditioned customers to demand higher quality listening that allows them to add their two cents’ worth (to us, this is priceless, as the famous ads would say!).

    -Lynn

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See ClearAction.biz, Twitter.com/ClearAction, Facebook.dj/customerexperience.

  9. Lynn,
    Found your post truly valuable. Great five steps — best one is #1. It will inspire and guide great listening and thus great customer service. To listen well, we must reinforce with CSRs etc… that the focus must remain true customer care.

    I have been teaching people-skills for customer service/teamwork for 20 years. What I have seen over the past 7 years is a toxic and dangerous focus on metrics as the primary inspiration for customer care. This leads to what I call “procedur-itis” and yes it reduces and sometimes crushes listening. It is rampant. Scripts and procedures have surmounted your five steps. Metrics have value yet they are not the purpose nor inspiration for customer care.

    So glad to see your article and we will both continue to lobby for great listening and customer service.

    http://twitter.com/katenasser (love to connect on customer service)
    Kate

  10. Hi Ann,
    Thanks for your comment. The para-language is so underestimated. I wrote a post, Customer Experience Metaphors, that you might enjoy.
    – Lynn

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See ClearAction.biz, Twitter.com/ClearAction, Facebook.dj/customerexperience.

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