Listening: Giving the Customer Control


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Listening patiently to a customer gives them a feeling of control. Customers want to know they are uniquely important and their specific needs are being attended to. They don’t want to feel trapped because you are trying to sell them something. After all, selling is not about offering customers a long list of inventory, but discovering what the customer wants.  How to achieve that goal?  By engaging the customer in a meaningful and personal dialog. If you spend the time to listen, you will give the customer that special feeling they come first.

Listening Pays Big Rewards

Joe Girard is the world record-holder for selling cars. He began in 1963 at a Chevrolet dealership in Detroit and retired in 1977. While the average salesperson sold seven cars a month, nationwide, Joe sold six automobiles or trucks a day. He bested himself with a whopping eighteen cars sold in just one day! Joe gave such special attention to each customer that soon there was a line outside his office with people waiting to see him. He finally started making appointments to ensure each customer would get his undivided attention.  Obviously, Mr. Girard’s attention was worth the wait.  Joe said, “people may have had to wait for an appointment, but when I was with them, I was with them body and soul.”

E-mails: Listening In-between the Lines

Our firm conducts various types of best-in-class research projects for our clients. One company wanted to know how their service and support for email responses compared to those of twenty other companies, each customer service leaders in their respective fields.  Ten different email inquiries were developed to send to the target companies and the speed and specific responses were measured.

In one scenario, the test email began, “I just had a baby and have a question about your product.” Only one of companies said “Congratulations on the birth of your child!” Obviously the underlying emotion was ignored.  It is even easier to pay attention to an email than a conversation. You have an opportunity to re-read the email. It’s less awkward than asking the customer to repeat what they just said. Another test email asked, “My dog accidentally chewed and digested part of your packaging.  Do I need to worry?” Several of the companies answered almost instantly with a reply, “please take your dog to a veterinarian.”  Good reply.  Two of the companies responded with that same message, but not until two weeks later.  Listening is not just listening. Listening is acting upon what you have heard.  In this case, offering such a slow response to a potential emergency might actually communicate less caring on the company’s part than if there had been no response at all.

What Listening Signals are You Missing?

Anyone remember the great Groucho Marx show, ”You Bet Your Life?”  Any contestant who mentioned the magic word of the day would be rewarded with a prize and a rubber duck falling from the ceiling celebrating the moment.  When I was doing research for my first book, I would frequently make a statement, a “magic phrase” to determine if a sales associate was a good listener.  It’s an opening to engage the customer.

  • This is my first time in your store
  • I just moved into the neighborhood
  • My friend suggested I might like your merchandise
  • I’ve never used your website before
  • This is the first time I have called your contact center
  • I have been buying this since I was a teenager

A representative who answers with just an okay, that’s nice, or says nothing at all, has missed a golden opportunity to start a dialog critical to securing repeat business.  You never know where the conversation may lead.  Maybe the person just moved from your hometown.  My son, Mike, is in the restaurant business and likes to engage his guests. A customer came into his brasserie and after being greeted by my son, both realized they remembered each other.  The gentleman was the little-league coach from our hometown.  They had a great time catching up the last twenty years.  If Mike had not bothered to say hello, they would have missed the chance for a special encounter.

Listen with your ears and your heart.  Then respond.  Make the customer feel respected and important.  When you pay attention you can hear the underlying emotion and then establish a human-to-human connection that has the potential to last a long time.

What are some ways you show your customers that you’re listening?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Shapiro
Richard R. Shapiro is Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) and a leading authority in the area of customer satisfaction and loyalty. For 28 years, Richard has spearheaded the research conducted with thousands of customers from Fortune 100 and 500 companies compiling the ingredients of customer loyalty and what drives repeat business. His first book was The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business and The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business was released February, 2016.


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