Adele is a legend and she most certainly knows what’s up. So what do customers and her iconic song have in common? Frustration, one-way communication, and relational breakups. You see, when a customer has an issue, which most do at some point, they want to be heard and they often believe they’re right (even when they’re wrong). Depending upon the issue and degree of escalation, this can lead to uncomfortable conversations. So, what do you do when a customer presents a problem and expects you to resolve it at any cost? Listen.
As a marketing professional, I intentionally spend time interacting with our customers. I hear stories all day long; some leave me in stitches and others leave me in tears. I have learned that one of the most simple, yet powerful ways I can serve my customers is to listen to them. I’m not talking about the “uhmmm, ok, yeah, that’s great, thanks” kind of listening. I’m talking about actively listening. What is their story? Why are they experiencing a problem? What do they need? How can YOU help? These are all thoughts that should be crossing your mind.
One of the hardest parts of resolving a customer’s issue is when you know the customer is wrong, or blatantly lying. After all, “The customer is ALWAYS right”, right? Although there is some truth to this mantra, I’ve learned the customer isn’t always right. Admitting that to them won’t help your brand much, though. Please here me: I don’t believe solutions should always be reached; however, many times it’s better to craft a reasonable solution for the greater good of your brand. One nugget of wisdom that has convicted me to genuinely listen to my customers, even if they are wrong is to listen.
“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” – Dr. Stephen R. Covey
How often do we hear the same ole’ sob story, know the ending before they finish their sentence, and have a memorized response ready to fire off? Problems tend to create patterns and quick responses save time. Yet, giving the customer the opportunity to feel heard is powerful. I’ve deescalated many hairy situations by placing my phone on mute and letting the customer ramble until they run out of steam. I’ve also found that listening allows me to see holes in our process, and eventually create solutions for those problems. As Bill Gates says: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”.
Once your customers feel like they’ve been heard, they are usually more open to receiving a resolution, even if it doesn’t meet their original demands. A little compassion goes a long way. Listen to understand, not to reply. You may just be surprised how easy it is to find a reasonable win-win solution after all. And lastly, take Marilyn Suttle’s advice and “Thank your customer for complaining and mean it. Most will never bother to complain. They’ll just walk away.”
Have you had a difficult conversation with a customer? What did you learn as a result of listening? I’d love to hear about it! Leave me a comment below or send me a tweet.