Lots of words. Written words, spoken words, recorded words. Everyone is talking, but who is really listening?
In business we tend to think we will be successful if we are talking to others; telling them about our business, about us, about what we can do for them.
But, I think that being a good business owner is really about listening — not talking.
Here are my top three suggestions for improving listening skills in your business.
1) The Customer: Yes, I said the customer. OK, seems cliché. We all know we should listen to the customer. But, very few of us do a good job of this.
Let’s take a customer service situation. The customer is mad. Something went wrong and they are ranting on us. What is your first reaction? Human nature tells us to defend ourselves; explain how the customer is wrong and we really didn’t mess up.
Wrong! Let them rant. They’re frustrated and want to get it out. If we keep interrupting them to defend ourselves, they will never feel vindicated.
Here’s a little story to illustrate. Years ago, before becoming a marketing consultant I ran customer service centers. Personally I think every executive should start in customer service — but I digress.
I worked for a national paging company (shows my age) in a local Orlando, Florida office. One Monday morning a customer came into our office and started yelling and cursing at the front desk receptionist. She called a CSR to the front to help. The customer wanted nothing to do with a CSR and demanded the manager. I went up front and invited them back to my office cube. They refused to sit down. So I stood there with them as they carried on about their situation. They had “lost” a $10,000 project because the paging system went down in a storm during the weekend. It was our fault and they were mad.
So I did the only thing I could do. I listened. I agreed with them that it was a terrible situation. I heard them out and eventually they calmed down. I asked them to sit with me so we could figure out what we could do. Could we replace that $10,000 job? Of course not, and they knew it. Does mother nature sometimes wreak havoc on our technology, of course. I listened to them and then said, “How can I make this right?”
We ended up with a very low-cost solution, and yet the customer felt better. They still lost the $10,000 job. But they were happy with us, because we listened, we empathized and we let them set the tone for the solution.
After the customer left, I came back to my desk and a standing ovation from all the sales, customer service and administrative staff. But, all I really did was listen. It’s easier to listen to an existing customer than go out a find a new one. In life, that’s what everyone wants, simply to be heard.
2) Employees: Good managers surround themselves with great employees. We have to, who knows everything anyway? Some of us actually do trust our staff and don’t micromanage. But, when things get tough, even good managers can get to the point of not trusting their staff to make the right decisions anymore. And folks, that’s when you will lose good talent. Micromanaging leads to turnover.
In times of trouble, more than ever, go to your strong employees to help craft solutions. Don’t assume that you, as an executive or owner, know best. Sometimes in the stress of meeting the budget or paying the bills, our decision-making is clouded. Trust others, who don’t have that same stress, to help come up with innovative solutions.
3) Vendors: In a similar fashion to employees, an educated, trustworthy vendor can be a lifesaver. They know their business better than you ever should need to. Use their knowledge to help you make the correct decisions; whether financial, legal or marketing related. Remember, if your business goes under, they lose a client. It is in their best interest to help you succeed. Let them do just that!
Do you have any inspiring stories of how listening turned around a bad situation? I’d love to hear them.