Let me begin with two statistics.
- For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 others customers remain silent. (Lee Resource)
- 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, while 91% of those simply leave, never to return. (1Financial Training services)
These may not be the latest numbers and yes, customers are increasingly voicing their disappointments on social media but that doesn’t rule out the fact that there’s still a significant number of those customers who may have silently dumped you.
I have a reason to believe this because we do it all the time. We switch brands. If we don’t like a restaurant, we simply don’t go there anymore. And, I’m sure you can remember at least one instance when you stopped short of complaining because of the lengthy and complex process.
How do you know what your customers are thinking? Are they happy or quietly searching for their next best option?
The answer is simple: Don’t guess, just ask—and make sure to be an “active” listener.
Here’s how you can listen to your customers in a more meaningful way.
Be curious. Remember when as a child you were interested in learning everything about how the world works? Well, when you approach your customer with similar levels of interest and curiosity, you tend to listen better and learn more about them.
Remove distractions. Checking Facebook or sending a text message in the middle of a face-to-face conversation sends across an immediate signal—”I’m not listening to you!”
As difficult as it may be in a busy schedule where you’re constantly juggling tasks, active listening requires you to stop doing everything else and just listen. Keep aside your phone or tablet. Focus completely on the person you’re engaged with—not only to the words but other non-verbal cues such as the tone of voice, facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language.
Don’t interrupt. Interrupting someone is not just plain rude but it also keeps you from learning more about the other person.
Imagine, you’re on a phone call with an important client, discussing their requirements for the next project. If you listen less, talk more, and constantly cut the client short, you not only give them a reason to cringe but more importantly, fail to meet their requirements. No points for guessing, they won’t return to do business with you.
Be a patient listener, nod at appropriate moments, and maintain eye contact. You’d be surprised at how much more you can learn about your customers without having to comb through big data sets.
Ask good questions. Many customers may not be as articulate as you’d like in placing their concerns or request before you. This is when asking open-ended questions can help them get their points across with more clarity so you can be sure to understand and respond appropriately.
Asking relevant questions also shows that you’ve been paying attention but would like a bit more information.
Here are some questions you can ask to better understand what is going on in your customers’ world:
- What are your top three initiatives/ priorities this year?
- What are the biggest challenges facing your department?
- What is the one thing you wish your vendors would do to make your job easier?
- What do you think we can do to improve as a company?
- Why did you choose to do business (or stop doing business) with our firm?
- What do you think about XYZ competitor?
- Do you have any advice on how we can be a better partner?
Frankly, the answers you receive could be far more telling than any data analysis would ever reveal.
Paraphrase their response. This shows you were listening and seeking to understand what they are telling you. In fact, repeating back what you hear will ensure you don’t misunderstand or misinterpret the other person’s views and comments.
Wait until they are done speaking, then paraphrase what they’ve said to confirm you’ve heard the actual meaning and intent of their words.
When your customers finally talk about what’s bothering them about your service or give you a negative feedback, make it a top priority to turn the experience around for them—but that is a subject for a different post.
Listening to your customers can revolutionize your business, only when you’re really listening. Yes, data can tell you a lot, but having a one-on-one chat with a customer can often reveal a lot more—and prevent that silent break-up.