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One of the best self-improvement efforts you can undertake is to become better at listening. You may think this sounds obvious, but it’s not always easy to use active listening techniques.
Estimated read time: 5 minutes
Professionals today are constantly on the hunt for new training or fresh ideas to improve the way they work. Anything that gives an edge is worth pursuing.
By becoming a better listener, you will understand your customers’ needs and concerns better than the competition. You’ll be creating an excellent customer experience, avoiding problems before they become big and expensive. A customer who feels appreciated and understood is one who’s going to come back.
Learning how to become a better listener isn’t hard. A few basic concepts and regular practice will put you on the road to success.
Caterpillar offers these tips to help you develop active listening techniques and become comfortable using advanced listening strategies in any situation.
Learn Different Active Listening Techniques & Styles
There are four different styles of listening:
Active listening. Consciously pay close attention to everything the customer is saying, staying open to information, opportunities and their emotions. This is the listening mode you will use the most.
Empathetic listening. Try to figure out what the customer is feeling. Note body language and voice. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and see the issues from their point of view before responding. Validate their emotion with a sympathetic, nonjudgmental attitude.
Factual listening. Consider taking notes when listening to a string of facts and details. Try not to lose sight of the customer’s emotions. Once you have all the facts, return to a more open listening style.
Solution-focused listening. When a specific need is presented, give a specific answer. You may need to ask a few exploratory questions. But when you’ve covered these, don’t forget to come back to “why” as a more open question that can again illuminate opportunities or enable you to solve the customer's problem on a more permanent basis.
Also remind yourself not to rush the conversation and don’t jump into a reply until you’re sure your customer has finished their observation. A little silence will also help you organize your thoughts.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for information that confirms what we already believe. Examples: Wall Street traders who make bold predictions without examining contradictory information, or the CEO who is in love with their ideas for a new product but doesn’t ask their managers or board their opinions.
It happens all the time. Don’t look for answers you want to hear. Ask questions that will yield new insights and perspective.
Understand Hearing vs. Listening
You should also understand the differences between hearing and listening. Hearing is an automatic mental response that is involuntary and effortless. Listening is active, engaged and concentrated. You can hear without thinking, but to listen requires purposeful attention to what is being said. To hear is just a reflex. To listen is to pay close attention to your customer while at the same time formulating follow up questions in your mind to address the issue.
Consider a Scenario
Here’s an example of a situation you may have heard about from a peer, or even encountered yourself.
John owns several machines and one of them gets damaged on the jobsite. He calls Keith, his salesperson at the local Cat dealer. They have a longstanding, good relationship.
John tells Keith that he needs the machine fixed as soon as possible. John is pressed for time and quickly explains information about the jobsite and the machines he uses, and Keith does not get to ask for clarification before John has to end the call to get back to work. Keith has made some notes but isn’t positive he got everything.
Keith calls the service department and arranges for a repair, but when they arrive at the site, they see that Keith has given the wrong unit and serial number for the machine. The repair is delayed by a full day, and John is frustrated. He calls Keith to say he will no longer be doing business with this Cat dealership.
Keith’s problem was that a customer had given him more information than was required. Keith was therefore confused about the repair requirements. When faced with a client in crisis, Keith did not feel able to slow the pace of conversation and ask the most important question. It’s hard to listen effectively when you are feeling panicked, and though it may be difficult to ask a customer to repeat themselves, it is a vital part of active listening.
You don’t want this type of issue to happen to you when your customer comes to you to say they don’t think the job has been done correctly. Slow the conversation, understand their grievances, take notes and be sure to ask them to repeat themselves if necessary.
Focus on the Future
As you listen to your client and consider their needs, your mind should be putting in place what you think the end goal should be. Put on your problem-solving hat and test each of your ideas or solutions with a question back to the customer. Example: “So what if we tried this … ?”
Through active listening you can define what a win is for your customer and let that objective shape your questions. The end result will be satisfied customers who appreciate the care and attention you’ve given them.
After an extended session of active listening, it’s important to summarize the conversation for your customer. Then tell your customer what you are planning to do with what you’ve learned and the actions you’ll take to address their concerns or fulfill that need.
And remember this: Everybody wants to talk, almost nobody wants to listen. Be that rare person who listens.
Practice using these techniques until they become second nature, and you’ll find even greater success in what you do.
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