By Irene Lefton, customer success evangelist
Good communication is a key to success for any organization. Most professionals are decent communicators, but there is always room for improvement. I’m not just talking about how you communicate with your customers. I am also talking about communication within your own team, especially between the field and the home office. All of this impacts customers and future product/service decisions. There is a difference between “good enough” and “good” communication. Why is achieving good communication so important? And what can you do to make sure you are there? One technique that has a huge impact is active listening.
Active listening is often overlooked. Most of us have the bad habit of not listening fully. We might be hearing what the other person is saying, but, we are already thinking about how we will respond, and what they “probably” need to do to address the problem they are describing. Applying active listening techniques only takes a few extra minutes and using this tactic can save time and improve customer experience.
Without active listening, we make assumptions, we don’t dig in to collect extra information, or ask clarifying questions. It can create a frustrating experience for customers. They want to make sure you understand and feel heard. It can also prevent important information being communicated back to the HQ team. None of this is good for business. Without active listening, you are stuck with only “good enough” communication.
Let’s look at an example: When a field service representative is visiting a customer site, they are very familiar with the typical kinds of problems that occur. Without active listening, they might get the problem fixed, but they may not gather all the details or they may miss something and address a symptom without getting to the root cause. It might create a need for an additional service visit when the next symptom appears, or it might mean following an incorrect path in solving the problem and having to back track and re-do work. Instead of spending the extra few minutes to actively listen and confirm what they heard, your field representative pushes forward to solve the problem and moves on. What is the opportunity cost?
By using an active listening technique called replay your representative could have paused to ask clarifying questions and confirm understanding. It only takes a small amount of time. Simply asking “If I understand you correctly you are saying…..” and confirming understanding, or asking clarifying questions ensures all the needed information is collected before moving into the problem solving stage. This ensures shared understanding. It is meaningful to be able to solve the problem completely and provides additional information to send as feedback to the corporate office.
The benefit to handling the situation with active listening is the difference between “good enough” communication and “good” communication. With the good communication, your customer feels heard and the problem gets solved more fully. You might even avoid the mutual inconvenience of a second service call. With the added details that are gathered, your field representative can also provide feedback to key people. This direct feedback from your customers is priceless and informs changes that are required to improve your business.
Whether it is with customers, or within your own team, applying active listening will help avoid misinformation impacting business decisions. Your customers will appreciate being heard and having a voice, and your teams knowledge will grow with the information and details provided from the field. Try active listening and then answer the question, Are my communication skills as good as I think?