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The Art of Active Listening

August 29, 2017

In today’s guest post, Gil Lhotka, Director of Customer Success at Kronos, dives deeper into the concept of “Active Listening” as the third of the 5 Commandments of Customer Success.  We’ll take a closer look at how listening helps Customer Success Managers with the relationships they have with their clients. 

Listen to your customers to provide valuable insight. Simply put, active listening is the act of concentrating, understanding, and responding during a conversation in a way that leads to remembering the discussion. It has been said that we remember 20% of what we hear and 30% of what we see and hear. That’s shocking to me. It means that during a 10-minute conversation with a customer, we might only be clearly remembering 2-3 minutes of the discussion. Nobody wants that outcome, so how do you change it? Here are a few techniques to help you practice the art of active listening:

Avoid distractions

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It’s best to be comfortable and fully situated when having important conversations. For example, hunger and stress have both been shown as factors that impair focus. Technology is another. If you’re on the phone, turn away from the computer screen and disable text and instant message applications. In person, look the speaker in the eye and disregard what’s around you. Pay attention to body language as well. Position is a clear indication of a listener’s interest or of his or her understanding of the discussion.

Show that you’re listening

Just as you should be aware of the customer’s body language, you should also take notice of your own. Give cues to let customers know they have your undivided attention. Nod, ask questions, or jot down notes. Your level of engagement will influence how comfortable the customer feels about opening up to you. Be sure that your posture is inviting the conversation rather than dissuading it. A study by Dr. Mehrabian in his book Silent Messages found that 93% of communication is non-verbal – 55% of that is body language, and 38% is from the tone of your voice. These statistics are quite shocking and reinforce the value of video conferencing or in-person communication when feasible.

Clarify what you hear

We all process information and ideas differently, and our unique perspectives can affect how we interpret conversations. Validate what you hear to avoid misunderstanding. This means acknowledging and summarizing the issue, challenge, victory, etc. Taking an extra moment to clarify ensures that you and the customer are on the same page moving forward.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the most obvious. Just listen. Our minds tend to race ahead of the conversation to the next topic on the agenda or to how we’ll respond to a comment. This is called shift response, and it’s more distracting than you’d think. It’s far better to give a support response, listen carefully to everything the customer has to say, and then formulate your reply after they have finished.

Once we realize these challenges and understand how we can overcome them, we’ll be better listeners as well as better communicators. We can engage with people in a way that results in meaningful, value-based conversations.

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