The power of listening
From passive hearing to active listening, Moneypenny looks at the benefits behind really hearing customer needs
For businesses, the act of listening has significant commercial advantage and can yield increases in revenue, particularly in the face of a challenging year – yet it is still an undervalued skill in a lot of markets.
2020 has tested the resilience of great numbers of companies, their employees and their clients, and it has started to rewrite the rule-book of business. It is also changing our notion of when and where work needs to happen, which in turn has shifted clients’ expectations of their professional partners. Against this backdrop, the power of listening should not be underestimated.
The difference between hearing and listening
There is an acute difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a physiological act. Listening requires a conscious decision to listen and understand what someone is saying. Active listening typically takes this one step further and includes giving the person speaking verbal and non-verbal signs of listening. These can involve some of the more obvious visual clues such as smiling, nodding and making eye contact, but also extends to asking questions, demonstrating empathy and clarifying the information that’s being delivered.
Communication can often be one-way, with businesses and brands disseminating information to their customers and prospects. But sharing information is not listening.
One of the main benefits of listening is the opportunity it provides to really understand customers’ wants and needs. From creating detailed records about existing clients, to accurately mapping target personas for marketing and lead generation – these insights have tremendous value. They can improve customer retention dramatically and enable successful cross and up-selling. Plus, with greater customer intelligence comes the ability to test the market quickly and to check brand sentiment too.
The lockdown experience
As social distancing continues to challenge our daily lives, listening takes on greater importance. Right now, we have an even stronger need for connection with others, to be understood and to feel supported. This was particularly evident at the pandemic’s height – call durations to Moneypenny clients increased as customers shared their worries and simply sought out human contact. Live chat became more popular too as people reached out for help and support outside of traditional hours – quickening the pace of demand for 24/7 service.
The listening armoury
Active listening requires a blend of communications tools and an appetite to engage in meaningful conversation. While customer satisfaction surveys and reviews can help to achieve this – these are typically annual activities and are often more weighted to asking the questions that businesses think are important, rather than the client.
Net promoter scores, which capture the likelihood of recommendations, provides a more independent benchmark by which to monitor customer care and websites such as Trustpilot offer an independent rating of performance. However, these still don’t offer the granular detail of one-to-one listening. Social media is also a cost-effective tool to listen to and engage in conversations in real time.
One of the most under-used tools is a business’s own website and many fail to recognise SEO as a form of listening. There are millions of search queries each day for different industries and professions on Google – by paying attention to those terms, what’s growing and declining in popularity, companies can take cues from their audience. The addition of live chat builds on this further. By monitoring queries, identifying key words and checking the sentiment of those chats, it’s possible to build greater client empathy, spot new opportunities and identify communication priorities.
Telephone answering services provide a similar opportunity to evaluate the nature of queries, identify commonalities and inform product and service development by using live chat and telephone answering transcripts to deliver process innovation in high volume service areas.
Authentic relationships drive revenue and growth
Listening empowers businesses to learn from their customers and provides the foundations on which to build meaningful relationships. More authentic two-way conversation is essential in order to keep customer experience evolving and to nurture, build and protect brand reputation.
Listening skills are not something to be dismissive of. Effective and active listening should be at the heart of all decision making. It should inform strategy and steer marketing for it is the key to creating confidence, trust, loyalty and value at a time when customers need it most. Listening can lead to a competitive advantage…you just need to make sure you can really hear what’s being said.