You know it; you’ve heard it a thousand times. Listening to customers, colleagues, and consultants is basic to success and we all believe it. After all, it’s at the heart of good communication. But there’s one time when we’re less likely to actually do it: that’s when we don’t like what we’re hearing.
It might be when you are denied a loan to expand into additional services for a shaky business and your consultant tells you to focus on making your core business better. Angel Cottrell, a Public Relations and Communication Affairs Specialist with the California State University Small Business Development Center, tells us this happens with some frequency. We get an idea about what we want to do and won’t let in the advice that would save us. But this is when we most need to be open our minds and give knowledgeable feedback serious consideration.
Or it might be when, despite doing our best, customers become angry and belligerent because we didn’t do still more. In his book, Just Listen, Dr. Mark Goulston points out that in times like this we need to put our emotions aside and avoid the temptation to become defensive and counterattack. When a customer begins ventilating, he recommends responding with a simple “hmmm.” Then wait for the customer to ask “What do you mean by ‘hmmm’?” That opens the door for you to respond by saying “I was just thinking how important it is that we fix, correct, or do something about this as soon as possible or else it’s just going to get worse. And I don’t think worse would be a good place to go. Don’t you agree?” This invites the customer to move from feelings of anger to begin working with you.
Whatever the situation –whether it’s over the phone, from an email, or in social networking – if you don’t like what you’re hearing, remember it could well be a gift in disguise- a warning signal of issues you need to address that other customers could be having, too, or an opportunity for the future you won’t want to miss. Use social media to discover what is being is said, about you, your business, your industry, or on issues important to what you do. They enable you to respond immediately to problems and to take advantage of what you learn.
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Adapted from our Costco column in September, 2012