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As a customer success leader, you know that listening to your customers (both external customers and even internal customers) is key to establishing strong relationships. Without strong listening skills, you won’t gain the respect and trust of your most important business relationships.
In the words of Stephen R. Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” And for customer success leaders, doing so could be detrimental to not only your role, but your entire company.
There are countless books and resources on the importance of listening across all areas of life: from listening to your significant other, raising children, teaching employees, or negotiating on a house. Clearly, listening is one of the most important skills that we can learn.
But in this post, our focus is specifically on how customer success leaders should listen – both to their internal customers (those within the same organization) to external customers (those that are paying your company for a product or service). We’ll give specific examples and illustrations for customer success leaders to excel at the art of listening:
1. Listen First
Often times, customer success leaders will dive into conversations head first with a list of questions. “How do you like this feature?” “Can you tell me more about the problem you’re experiencing with X?” While asking questions is certainly a gateway to get customers talking, this format leaves little room for the customer to provide direct and honest feedback about what’s on their mind. By asking questions, you are directing the conversation to what you want to hear, not towards what the customer wants to talk about.
Rather than starting with a barrage of questions, write them down so you can come back to them later. Then, start by asking a single open-ended question such as, “how are things working out for you this week?” By asking a simple question like this, the customer can then dictate where to steer the conversation. If they are indeed experiencing a problem, they will likely bring it up on their own.
For customer success leaders, many of your customer conversations likely happen over the phone. This can be tricky as it eliminates face-to-face conversations where each of you are able to read facial expressions. If you do have to use a phone, make sure you are actively listening and following along by with simple words like “got it”, “okay”, “makes sense”, etc. so the customer knows he or she has your full attention.
Bonus Tip: If your company gives you the option of using video technology, try Google Hangout, GoToMeeting, or Join.Me for inexpensive ways to engage “face to face” with your customer.
2. Seek Clarification
Once the customer begins talking, take notes rather than interrupting or cutting them off in the middle of a story or dialogue. Let them keep talking – this is gold! Your customers love knowing that you’re actively listening and taking notes during the conversation. When the time is right and the customer has stepped back to let you respond, now is the time you can refer to the questions you wrote down initially for the call.
Take the time to ask specific questions relating to what the customer has confided. Make sure you fully understand the information before you move onto another subject.
3. Repeat Back
How does your customer know you truly understand what their situation, request, problem, or compliment is? After you have asked clarifying questions, be sure to repeat the information back and ask if you understand accurately. So often, we believe we understand the situation and take action on what we believe is the problem, without actually confirming the data points. Taking action on a situation without truly understanding it can be more detrimental than good – even with the best of intentions.
Once you have repeated the information back to the customer and he or she acknowledges you’ve got it right, then tell him or her what you plan to do with it so they know it won’t disappear into a black hole. Whether you plan to share the situation at the next customer success meeting or whether you will meet with the CEO about it the following day, it’s important to ensure your customer knows something is happening with the valuable information they have just provided.
4. Take Action
If you told the customer you were going to take a specific action with the information they shared, now is the time to put the to-do into motion. Not all data points are crucially important, but all deserve to be recorded and remembered. Whether you need to create a calendar reminder to bring up the information in your next customer success team meeting or whether you need to pick up the phone and act on something more urgent, do it immediately. Waiting to take action will simply create dust and lose you trust with the customer if he or she begins to notice nothing happens with the information they entrust to you.
Bonus Tip: As a customer success leader, it’s likely that you often don’t have time throughout the day to pause and take action if it’s not a fire alarm. To ensure nothing gets lost in the shuffle, carve out an hour every morning to address problems or act on information from the previous day. Use that time every morning to as a gut check for how your customer information is being acted upon across the organization.
5. Report Back
One of the most forgotten steps entails reporting back. So often customers pass on great information that may have helped the product team fix a bug, or may have created a more seamless invoicing process, or may have helped streamline a services offering. This customer input is gold, but unless they know their information is actually being taken to heart and considered, you can bet they won’t continue sharing. Sharing information in this way takes time and energy away from the customer’s job, so reporting back is one easy way to thank them for their valued input. Let them know where their feedback is making a difference, and what they should expect in the future.
Bonus Tip: Get marketing involved and send out a thank you card or thank you gift when you receive incredibly valuable information from a customer. This over-the-top thank you will be remembered, and the customer will know you’re carefully considering their input.
6. Seek Input & Repeat
Once you’ve reported back to the customer and the input has either been considered or taken into action, go back to your customer and ask for even more input. Ask them how the process could have been better, or what else is on their mind. Perhaps use another open-ended question to dive deeper into another area of the business.
The key to remember is that listening to customers will produce more opportunities for listening, so the goal should always be to encourage your customers to remain open and honest. When they see you, their customer success leader, listening and taking action to their feedback and concerns, you’ll create the best outcome. The outcome of trust.