Why We Need Less Talk, More Listen

According to Salesforce, I'm on one of the most productive salespeople.

That's not really true. Someone at Salesforce just thinks I am because the company profiled me in it's 2014 ebook, Secrets of the Most Productive Salespeople. The only reason I'm in there is I was blogging for Salesforce at the time and responded to a vague request from an editor to take a productivity survey. 

The lesson learned is ask more questions the next time an editor asks you to take a random survey.

A few weeks later, I received a call from a Salesforce sales representative. My name was on a prospect report because I had downloaded the ebook.

It quickly became apparent he had no idea I was in the book, so I told him.

That ended the conversation. The sales rep quickly got off the phone, despite the fact that he was on the line with someone who (allegedly) was one of the most productive salespeople. You'd think he would ask for a tip or two.

Trust me, my feelings weren't hurt. But the situation did reveal a challenge I see nearly every day—people in the position of working with customers spend too much time talking and not enough time listening.


How Our Agenda Kills Listening

We all have an agenda.

The trouble is the agenda is not always tied to a customer service vision. Frequently, a more base desire is driving behavior.

A server in a restaurant tried to rush her guests after she was told she could go home as soon as they paid the bill. Her agenda was going home, not helping customers have a great experience.

A support rep routinely skimmed emails because he knew he was measured on productivity, not quality. His agenda was getting good productivity marks, not helping customers solve problems. 

The Salesforce rep's agenda was finding new customers by dialing for dollars. He wasn't interested in any insights or feedback. When I told him I'm one of the productive salespeople in the ebook, he heard Charlie Brown's teacher, "Wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah."

It's easy to miss what your customer is trying to say when you have an agenda that isn't focused on your customer's needs.


Listening is Difficult

Let's not pretend listening is easy. Here are just a few things that stand in the way in addition to our own agenda:

  • Distractions
  • Experience
  • The customer's storytelling

The second one may seem a little counterintuitive—my research indicates experience can degrade our listening skills by making it easier to jump to conclusions.

Customers are also notoriously bad at telling their story. We need to ask questions and concentrate to understand what they truly need.

For instance, a few months ago I worked with a client who wanted to get a project scheduled but needed the cost to be below a certain price point. It took careful listening to understand he wasn't really trying to be a tough negotiator. 

My client's issue was any costs over that price point would trigger additional levels of internal approval that might stall the initiative and my client wanted to complete the project before the end of the fiscal year.


How to Listen More

There are a few things you can do to beef up your listening.

Ask more questions. If you aren't sure what to ask, you can use the Five Question Technique to prepare a few probing questions ahead of time.

Care about the answers. Even mundane questions such as "Did you find everything you need?" or "How are you today?" might yield unexpected opportunities to serve if you pay careful attention. (This example is one my favorites.)

If you are a customer service leader, spend time training and coaching your employees on listening skills. This includes reading skills, too. Data from the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) suggests that less than half of contact centers perform quality monitoring on non-phone channels such as email, chat, and social.

Our people won't become better listeners unless we are listening to them.

In the spirit of listening, I'll reiterate an offer I make to every new blog subscriber. Use this contact form to send me an email or call/text me at 619-955-7946. Let me know something you are working on in customer service right now.

I'll do my best to listen.