The Gift of Listening

All of us in business are very busy these days, especially during the holidays! It is the nature of the season. We all have way too much to do. What is the one gift we can give our colleagues, friends, families, and particularly our customers? We can take a moment to set everything aside and sincerely listen to them. This is one gift that is free and would be greatly appreciated.

I have lost two very close friends within the past few months. For both of them, their greatest gift to me was a warm and caring smile, a friendly welcoming face. They both listened well. Often, that was enough to lessen my anxiety and help me to reflect on possible next moves for my problems. That is truly a gift they have both left with me.

How can we share the gift of listening?

This gift requires discipline. I often tell my students that carrying on a conversation may only require the use of 60% of your brain, 60% of your attention. You can use the rest of your brain to drive a car, perform another task, plan your next activity or figure out what you want on the menu. A gifted market researcher can appear fully engaged while carrying on several additional tasks besides interviewing a customer or leading a focus group. But, what if we become "tabla rasa," as described by Rouseau, and let our customer, colleague, friend or family member write on the blank slate of our consciousness? What if we unhurriedly listen?

Think about the last conversation you had with a customer, investor or friend. Reflect on the conversation. Who initiated it? What was the purpose? Were all of their needs being met completely? Did you let them know you understood their concern? Did you lessen their anxiety?

 Ask yourself the following questions: 

1. Was I using active listening techniques to understand the customer? Did I use both non-verbal and verbal feedback to encourage the customer to share not only what interested them, but more importantly, how they felt about it?

2. Where was I focused, on their agenda or my own? Did I completed understand how their story affected them and their company, or was I thinking about how it affected me. You do not have to agree with them in order to understand how they feel. Often, if they know you understand them, it can greatly lessen their anxiety. This is a huge part of the gift of active listening (especially with those who may be angry with you).

3. What was I able to learn from their body language and their tone of voice that would not have been obvious if I werereading their statement in the printed word? Remember, they are giving you the gift of their thoughts. None of us have time to do that unless we care about the person with whom we are sharing. What was the message someone would see in the conversation even if they could not hear?

4. How can I apply active listening skills to my next interaction with a customer (or an investor, a spouse, a friend or colleague)? 

5. Did I give them the gift of my complete undivided attention?

You can learn active listening techniques from my book, Pain Killer Marketing. The more you practice, the better you will become at being a good listener. Give the gift of listening to your customers and others this holiday season!

Listening to Social Media: Is It Worth the Investment?

In a previous newsletter I teased you about an example of a problem with a single unhappy customer going viral. I heard this story this past July from an Orkin executive at a meeting here in San Diego.

Orkin Pest Control has a team that monitors social media.They had a customer who believed she had a problem with rats and engaged her local Orkin office. She packed up her pet hamster and visited her sister while the Orkin people took care of her problem. She returned home in a couple of weeks. Soon thereafter, her hamster died. She was angry. Her son went viral on social media with the story.

Within a few hours, the Orkin team had discovered the story in social media. They acted quickly. The Orkin office the woman had contacted returned to her home and explained that they had not used any poison, but merely sealed her home to keep the rats out. They did not leave anything that could have caused her hamster's demise. The son recanted his story on social media quickly. Complete disaster for Orkin on social media was averted. How many potential customers could have been lost?

What is the lesson in this story? Are you monitoring social media with respect to your company? Would you be nimble enough to respond as quickly as Orkin did? Do you have resources dedicated to such an effort? Can you afford to do so, or, can you afford NOT to do so?

There are CEOs and CMOs that not only monitor social media, but take part in it as well. Some, such as Tony Hsieh of Zappos, may spend an hour conversing (mostly listening) with customers in an online chat room. He and others at Zappos hear the Voice of the Customer directly. This can create an exciting corporate structure of loyalty to the customer. 

I'm still shocked by a survey from a few years ago that stated that 75% of senior managers and above in the US never talk to a customer! How about you?