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We don’t learn from talking; we learn from listening

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Katy Wild
Katy Wild

EVP, Customer Experience

Freeman

American author Bryant McGill said “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” One of the core principals of uncompromising service is to listen to your customers… really listen.

We’ve all had this annoying experience where you are trying to explain something you need, describing a situation you’re in, or asking for assistance and — before you can even finish the first sentence — you are already being offered the solution. This has happened in my personal life but also in business when speaking with peers, managers, and vendors! I always appreciate their insight, but it’s difficult not to get frustrated, especially when it becomes a one-sided conversation in which they simply want to make themselves heard (to make me go away?), convince me they have a fix (for something that’s not broken) or just make a sale (for something I don’t need). When your answer is not about giving me the solutions I asked for or the help I need, you are making my problem worse.   

A friend of mine recently witnessed this situation — and the victim was one of her customers. She and two of her associates took an important client to dinner at a nice restaurant in Los Angeles. This was an executive from a high-profile, multi-million-dollar company that they had disappointed with a few service failures over the last year. The purpose of the dinner was to try to make amends and lay the foundation to extend the current contract.

The evening started off on the wrong foot with the two associates arriving 15 minutes after the reservation time. Once everyone was settled at the table, after pleasantries were exchanged, one of the associates began talking about his personal travel and how exciting it had been over the summer. Then the conversation moved to his children, how many important people he had done business with lately, and lastly, how successful his company was. He never stopped talking about himself. Worse, he never asked the customer how HE felt the company was doing with his account, if there were any adjustments that should be made, or if HIS business was growing or struggling in the current market.

When the talkative associate excused himself from the table for a phone — another bad move — the customer looked at my friend and said “I wonder why I was invited to dinner?” Obviously, the situation did not put her company in a positive light, and she had to make serious reparations to extend the association.  In the end, she did renew the account, but the gentleman in question was asked to be removed — and he was her boss! 

Freeman is so fortunate to have many customers that love us, our innovation and our enthusiasm!  But we can never take that for granted — and should never assume we intrinsically know what they want or need. The only way to find out? Ask them… and then listen to what they have to say.  

My favorite quotation about listening? This one by Thomas Edison, “We have but two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak.”  

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