The Art of Listening
“Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly” --- Plutarch
They say that customer is the king, and when the king talks, you better stop whatever else you’re doing and listen.
People are becoming increasingly impatient; they want instant responses for all their concerns and problems, much like instant coffee.
There are two reasons for this.
• There is no dearth of credible resources on the internet, so if your content isn’t giving your readers answers they’re looking for, they’ll happily go away to look elsewhere and never come back again.
• Time is at a premium and they’ve got better things to do than to read, re-read, decipher and get confused all over again.
Social media pages are abuzz with millions of people pouring in reviews after reviews and complaints after complaints, hoping that their vent will be within (your) earshot. Sadly, many companies tend to have a pretty rigid approach when it comes to addressing customer reviews.
A curt automated reply stating that they’re looking into the perennial problem has become the norm as opposed to being an exception.
Here’s some news for you:
Respond and not react
A cold one-liner means nothing to your customer other than the fact that you just don’t care. Such responses basically tell a customer they are not worth your time. All it does is to give oxygen to their already-proliferating suspicion.
Now, we all know internet is a platform where people not just share their feedback, but also vocalize their frustrations. Often these rants end up snowballing and yes, you guessed it right… go viral. Consumers share their grievances hoping earnestly that their complaint won’t be dumped to trash or thrown callously from one department to another.
They don’t expect us to be the messiah we all claim or hope to be.
Not by a long shot.
All they want is for us to be a little human in a digital world that is becoming increasingly bereft of emotions. Building a positive relationship with the customer is imperative if you’re serious about resolving issues in a manner that’s mutually beneficial.
It’s a simple give and take equation; customers bring in business and a sense of belongingness to your business. Your role here is to reward them by listening to and addressing their concerns quickly and effectively.
Often we forget that customers are not merely a podium for broadcasting messages. They are sharing snippets of their everyday lives; they are giving voice to their passions, interests and most importantly, their frustrations.
The maze of red tape
Bureaucracy is one of worst things to stymie your business. It’s one of the biggest reasons why companies continue to struggle to serve effectively. ‘The system’, with its predetermined protocols, overwhelms and then overpowers the helpless customer.
Customers don't care about the nuances role of departments. Hence, internal functions are impervious to them. For them, it’s just a voice at the other end of the phone or another email in their mailbox that may or may not be helpful.
To add value to customer relationships, bust the bureaucracy. As a business or an entrepreneur, you would do well to start treating customers as real people and not just as sources of revenue.
Customer service, in its current form, is becoming disturbingly obsequious. The endless verification of who you are, what is your background and where you come from make you feel like you are lost in a labyrinth reinforced by steel doors.
People are thrown into a tizzy when they think of the number of calls they must make, the number of minutes (or hours) they would be put on hold, the number of departments they should navigate through to get their voice heard.
Not surprisingly, they become aggressive, sarcastic and disillusioned, often in the same order.
So, how do you fix it?
Don’t hesitate to apologise.
Quite often, customers feel much better after having their complaint acknowledged and understood. They need to be told that their problem matters and its being looked into.
To this end, a sincere apology goes a long way in allaying flared tempers. Show them you are there by their side, even if it’s to say you need more time to address the issue at hand. An apology will provide succour to an angry customer and may help regain their trust in you.
Engagement is all about creating conversations. Talk to your customers, follow up with them to make sure they are satisfied with the solution you offered. This can be as straightforward as dropping them an email asking how and when complaint was handled and whether they’re satisfied with the end-result.
Make the effort to write a personal response that engages them emotionally. Word your reply with genuine care and concern. While automated replies can save time and money, they can also backfire by taking away the element of human touch that your customer may need. You can do better than to hoodwink a customer into believing that a mechanical reply by a bot was your way of expressing concern. Walk the extra mile – down to the last mile. You’re likely to be amazed by what you see.
Find a workable solution
People want tangible solutions, not abstract theories that do nothing more than identifying the problem. They already know what the problem is; your job is to give them a solution. There is no point beating around the bush if there’s no solution in sight. Rather than passing the complaint onto a series of managers, find a solution that can be implemented right away.
There may be thousands writing in to you to share their problems/complaints/feedback on a daily basis. Against this backdrop, listening and responding to all of them demonstrates actionable empathy. Needless to say, social media is the best platform for this type of engagement.
All you need to do is to stop treating your customers as anonymous transactions. Embrace their problems as your own whilst crafting solutions for them. Remember, your customers are real people with real issues.
Give them the respect they deserve and be pleasantly surprised with the difference it makes to your business.