Have you ever sat down to tell someone a story and you feel that they are not really listening? Do you feel that they are distracted? Do they interrupt you so that they can tell you their own story or perhaps even a better story? Do they stop you mid-sentence to ask you a question about something that is not even relevant to what you are telling them?
It is a bit like when we are talking to someone and we get a reminder in our head about something we need to do (like picking milk up on the way home). It is also similar to when you are listening to a quiz on the radio and the presenter begins to ask a question. The participant responds before the quizmaster finishes asking the question. I know that sometimes they may guess the right answer, but other times they will get it completely wrong.
I have noticed that this is something we are all guilty of doing when it comes to handling customer queries, be it from a sales or customer service perspective. We get an idea that we think will benefit a customer, so we are eager to tell them. As a result, we stop listening because we start to formalise an idea. Then we patiently wait for our cue to talk or we cut across and leap straight in.
If a customer is in good form, they may perceive us as being eager or passionate about the product or service that we are selling, so we might get away with jumping in with ideas or suggestions some of the time. However, what happens if we don’t give the customer time to talk or we don't clarify what they want? They may see us as being self-centred, pushy or we may simply misunderstand what they want.
If we do this when dealing with an unhappy customer, I believe we will have dire consequences. They may feel that we are trying to fob them off and that we are disinterested. The outcome will probably be that they will get more annoyed and the conversation will become difficult and heated.
As customers, I am sure that we have all been in this position at some stage or another. We all find it quite annoying when people don’t listen.
On the flip side, let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that we’ve all been that annoying person, who can sometimes get a bit too excited, bored or distracted when others are talking and jump in. Yet, most of the time we don’t realise we are doing it. We don’t mean to cause offence or upset the other person. We are just eager to help and do a good job.
So, what can we do about it? How can we improve our listening skills and become an active listener? We can start by doing the following:
- Give your full attention and look at the other person
- Relax and empty your mind of thoughts and distractions
- Put yourself in their shoes and understand their point of view
- Suspend prejudices in an unbiased way - listen with your heart and head
- Show interest in what they are saying - use verbal nods
- Do not interrupt - however ask questions to clarify
- Acknowledge their query and use their name in conversation
- Give a response and repeat back what they have told you
- Use positive feedback and what has been agreed
- Thank the customer for their attention