How often do we spend time listening with empathy to our customers so we completely understand their needs? When it comes to building good customer relationships nothing beats the power of Active Listening.
What is Active Listening?
In 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', Stephen Covey, shows it is essential to listen to understand: listening intellectually and emotionally. Gaining top quality information means listening with our eyes, ears and our heart. It’s worth every minute it takes to listen well. And it shows in the sales figures!
The Bedrock of Good Communication
Training as a lawyer I quickly realised a) I was in sales; b) how important it was to understand my client’s problem fully. Only then could I advise well and provide solutions. It was important that they saw and felt I understood. Mutual understanding creates trust.
The whole client story is important. Not just the facts! I need the reasons, the feelings and the expected outcome. I’ve mastered the art of nodding, smiling and “mmmm..ing” encouragement. And tactfully pull them back when they wander away from the main story. Succinctly summarising what the client wants to achieve shows I’m paiding them the respect of active listening,
I can honestly say I’ve always been a busy lawyer and always have a full 'order book'. These listening techniques are the bedrock of my communication skills. As Dr Covey says 'you can only have a truly productive relationship with a customer if you listen to understand what is important to him.'
A Lesson from The Listening Bank
In 1980 The Midland Bank wanted to become the first bank which really listened to its customers. They realised that most of their customer conversations were transactional. They had almost no emotional impact. They weren’t making the customer feel special. This meant little or no customer loyalty. The bank changed its approach and become the Listening Bank. This proved popular with customers and highlighted the fact that successful business depends on listening.
Tips for Active Listening
Dr Covey says that most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. He shows that this does not build trust or good customer relations.
See whether you have developed active listening skills by comparing the following against your own listening habits.
- Pay attention and ignore distractions during the conversation – give the customer your undivided attention?
- Use body language including gestures to show you are interested?
- Smile and use other facial expressions?
- Provide feedback – reflect the message back and ask questions to make sure you have understood correctly?
- Allow the customer to finish before you speak?
Be an Active Listener
If we all use active listening consistently we’ll make our client the centre of the conversation.
Make Active Listening an important part of your communication strategy and watch out for increased repeat business, the rise in referrals and your sales figures rocket!
By Jenny Betts, Toastmasters International, a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Find your local club.