Listen to the Customer

Ever sensed you weren’t really being listened to? In the communications cluttered world we live in, listening often seems to be a lost art. If you haven’t experienced this it would be highly unusual. Whether on the personal level or in business, it helps to view the questioner as a customer. If we don’t understand the question, how can we hope to provide excellent customer service? We must listen to the customer.

An Example

A personal experience that immediately comes to mind is a time when I attempted to ask a question just to get some clarification about a particular word. My question was, “This word was supposedly added for clarification, but in conversations with others the word actually seems to add confusion. So, why was the word added?”  Before even finishing the question the listener interrupted and answered. Unfortunately, his answer was not to the intended question. This is a fairly common thing for people to do in an attempt to save time. In the end they really don’t save much time and may well have offended the questioner. No matter how much we may think we know what someone is going to ask based on the first few words, we are probably wrong far more often than we imagine.

When we answer before we know the question we are actually insulting the questioner without realizing it. People can and do ask questions that we never would have imagined. After all, we are all different and at different places in our growth. In the personal example above I was like a customer who could not get the answer needed.

Business Examples

You may have had the experience of trying to get a better understanding of a product or service, only to find the other person dodging the question. They can do it in the form of answering a similar question in a hope of avoiding the real question. This could be an attempt to defuse their own discomfort at not knowing the answer or to keep you from knowing something that could influence you in a way they don’t want.

I had this experience when shopping health insurance plans for a company. In this case the main agent was allowing someone he was training to handle the questions. Something about the proposed plan concerned me. When I began to ask questions for clarification she attempted to dance around the questions. Fortunately the main agent stepped in and provided the needed answers. As a result we went with a different plan they also quoted. Later I learned from the agent that the trainee thought my questions were unfair. He had to explain to her that she needed to be willing to answer the tough questions as well as the easy ones.

Some Tactics

Here are several suggestions to avoid this pitfall when dealing with customers:

  1. Give your full attention. Truly listen to the customer and let your body language reflect it.
  2. Allow the other person to finish their question. This can be more difficult than we may think.
  3. Restate the customer’s question to be sure you understand it.
  4. Ask clarifying questions of your own.
  5. Listen to the answers to the clarifying questions, again without interrupting.

Unless we learn to actively listen to the customer without interrupting and without answering before we fully understand the question, we run a big risk of providing second-class customer service. Incidentally, I’m not just talking about our external customers that buy from our company. I’m also referring to internal customers in our company that we service.

If you want to know more, contact AimCFO – Contact

As always, your comments are welcomed.


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