Five Common Customer Listening Errors

Listen to the customer.  You’ve heard that sound advice maybe a thousand times.  You agree and move on.   At your next customer encounter you try to listen better, but you still don’t get the results you want.  What happened?  Maybe you’re listening game is out of sync.  A good way to get back in sync with your customer is to think less about all the things you should do and more about the few things you shouldn’t do.  Here are five common customer listening errors.  If you avoid them, you greatly increase your chances of hearing what they are saying.

1. Listening too hard

Except for the severely hearing challenged, all of us can hear.  But we don’t always listen well.  In an effort to do better, you can easily fall into the trap of trying too hard.  You might try to capture everything you hear, which is impossible.  More likely you’ll fixate on one particular piece of information at the expense of more significant details.  It’s better to lighten up and sit back.  As comedian Bill Murray once observed, “The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything.”  

2. Jumping the gun

Now you’re so relaxed in your listening that you have time to anticipate what the customer will say next.  That’s another trap.  You could pre-filter yourself out of sync again.  Premature follow-up questions forming in your mind might head the conversation in a direction that won’t help the customer and certainly won’t help you.  Stay steady on course and let the talk unfold in the way most comfortable to the customer.  Let them float.  You steer the boat.

3. Lagging behind

The opposite of jumping the gun is lagging behind.  It seems like you’ve been with this kind of customer before.  They’re going on and on about something that doesn’t seem important to you and your mind wanders to solution scenarios, what kind of bonus you might be up for, perhaps the need to rotate your tires.  Suddenly the customer pauses and you panic.  Where are you in the movie?  You cleverly say, “What do you think?”  But the customer gets a quizzical look and responds, “That’s what I asked you.”

4. Omitting

In your zeal to shorten the sales cycle and conserve your notepad (you’re taking notes, right?) you skip over some of the boring stuff your customer is saying.  But maybe that boring stuff is most critical to their needs.  A moderate, comprehensive approach is best in most cases.  Slow it down.  I had a colleague from Spain who loved to quote a matador who found himself late to the arena and in need of being quickly dressed in his elaborate clothing.  He told his handlers, “Dress me slowly.  I’m in a hurry.” 

5. Adding

And the opposite of omitting is adding.  You so want the customer to say yes that you parse their words into a positive encounter.  I was in Europe working on aircraft solutions.  My corporate partner and I visited an aviation support company in one country seeking a strategic partnership on a bid in another country.  I was in the lead.  The conversation and lunch were terrific.  It was a touchdown.  Back at the hotel I wrote up the notes and emailed them over to my corporate partner.  He came back immediately with the headline: “Were we at the same meeting?”  I’d so wanted that company to join us that I “heard” yes.  It was really a maybe, which meant no.

I’m sure there are other listening errors that can turn customer conversations into customer calamities, but these are the ones that I’ve learned (painfully) to avoid.  If you can avoid them, too, you can stay better in sync with your customers.

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