Are You Listening to Your Customers? Three Ways to Make Sure You Are

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: September 6, 2017
Photo credit: ALPA PROD/Shutterstock

As other companies cut customer-service corners, you can differentiate your small business. Learn about the value of listening and how you can hone your team's listening skills.

Great conversations lead to satisfied customers; however, businesses' ability to listen is under attack. According to Northridge Group, 69 percent of customers are very frequently or frequently required to repeat information multiple times when contacting customer service. This is problematic, especially for small businesses whose customers choose them over large corporations precisely for that personal touch.

Rapidly changing shopping behaviors are partly to blame for this listening problem. Not so long ago, shopping primarily took place in local brick-and-mortar stores where customers could form personal connections with sales reps and managers. While some small businesses still provide these special touch points, 32 percent of organizations are shifting customer service from live assistance to automated service.

In some instances, customers can solve issues on their own through online customer service portals and artificial intelligence-powered chats, but more intricate queries require intervention that only a master listener can provide. As other companies cut customer service corners, though, you can differentiate your small business by hanging onto your customer's every word.

The value of listening

Sixty-five percent of customers would recommend a company to others because of a great customer service experience. This underscores the value of training your team to listen and makes listening one of the most cost-effective marketing instruments in your toolbox.

 

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Listening provides context clues that are lost in nonverbal communication – for example, tone of voice, and when in-person or over video chat, body language. Taking the time to engage in conversations lets your employees appreciate customers' complex concerns rather than rely on one-size-fits-all solutions, leading to customer-driven decision-making at all levels of your business. It also gives your customers a sense that your company cares and makes itself available when they are in need of a real conversation with another human being.

The data shows that your organization’s investment in listening and positive customer service will pay off with referrals and repeat business. Furthermore, while it should not be the objective of listening, your team may find that there are opportunities to upsell or cross-sell when they tune into and respond appropriately to what the customer has to say.

Developing a listening-positive culture

While listening may sound like a simple solution, the process requires true dedication to a listening-positive culture. Take the following steps to cultivate listening skills that will set your small business apart from your competitors.

1. Clearly define "listening"

To ensure that you and your employees are truly listening to customers, create a clear definition of what constitutes listening. It may seem straightforward, but we all have our own idea of what it entails, making a clear explanation necessary.

First, be sure that employees understand that listening is more than simply not talking. Encourage them to appreciate what they hear and ask questions to clarify situations. While responding to customer inquiries may become tiring after hours on the phone or at a service booth, encourage staff to see each customer as a unique individual with valuable insights that benefit the bottom line.   

2. Offer human interaction

Customers’ perceptions of your business are built upon their collective experiences interacting with it. While some touch points, such as text messages and online chats, will inevitably be nonverbal, it's still integral for small businesses to provide human listening points in the customer journey.

Examine which touch points will benefit the most from a human listening. For example, you may not need a human to answer questions about operating hours or to communicate a credit balance. However, if a customer has a complex inquiry about a product, make sure they have access to a person who can listen intently and think critically and creatively to create a solution.

3. Incentivize customer satisfaction

Reconsider how your organization views customer service inquiries and ensure that your employees understand their value. Whether over the phone or in-person, it's the natural point in the customer journey when a customer decides to interact with your company on a personal level. With that in mind, set KPIs and other performance indicators that incentivize customer satisfaction so their journey doesn't come to an abysmal end.

For example, your small business might offer customers a survey after they call your office or make a purchase. Incentivize employees to deliver the best customer service by gamifying the experience – share "very satisfied" survey scores with teammates and recognize employees who receive a special shout out from customers. Of course, you can still set KPIs based on call length, number of customers served, and other traditional metrics, but always make listening a top priority to solidify your status as a customer-focused small business. 

Customers are an important asset for small businesses, but if knowledge workers at all levels of an organization don't sharpen their listening skills, losses in customer satisfaction – and ultimately profit – are at stake. By honing listening skills and fostering a listening-positive culture, small business leaders can set their organization apart from competitors. Providing experiences where customers truly feel understood, listened to, and valued requires time, effort, and the right technological tools, but businesses that prioritize listening hold a valuable instrument that can boost bottom-line performance.

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