Think about your everyday life: In conversations (or at least the conversations we enjoy), we tend to switch between speaking and listening — that is, relaying information and taking in information. It’s this back and forth that distinguishes conversation from other forms of communication, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that conversation can strengthen the bonds of relationships in our lives. We’ve all felt better after a conversation with a trusted loved one or an old friend. The back and forth of conversation somehow seems to satisfy a basic human need.
Organizations can take notes from our everyday lives. Rather, when it comes to developing effective communication with customers, businesses can take notes from some of the best communicators: therapists. According to psychologist Carl Rogers, effective communication is mostly about listening. In fact, he says, active listening “builds deep, positive relationships...Listening is a growth experience.” Active listeners can actually make the other parties in the conversation feel safer and establish more trust.
So listening is the conversational half that can really help build strong relationships. But in order to achieve this, we have to make sure we’re listening in the right way. There are two ways people listen: the first is listening to understand and the second is listening to respond. A study by Faye Doell showed that listeners who strive to understand rather than simply respond find more satisfaction in the conversation and in the relationship. We have all had these conversations — when you can sense that the person you’re talking to is formulating her response before you even finish your sentence.
"Customer relationships today are all about trust: 92 percent of Americans say trust plays a major role in their purchasing decisions."
In the same vein, when organizations become too focused on telling their own brand story or stick too closely to the company line — even when their customers are trying to speak to them — they risk spending too much time talking and not listening.
Listening — really listening — has multiple benefits for the business-customer relationship. For one thing, it’s one of the best avenues to build trust, and in today’s marketplace, trust matters significantly. In fact, customer relationships today are all about trust: 92 percent of Americans say trust plays a major role in their purchasing decisions.
So what happens if you’re not listening to your customers? Not only are you not building trust or forging strong, trusting relationships, you’re also missing out on critical information that your consumers and customers want to tell you.
Active Empathetic Listening (AEL) is a concept developed in 2006 by Drollinger et al. to help salespeople relate to consumers better and thus make more sales. This set of skills is based in part on the person-centric approach developed by psychologist Carl Rogers, which encourages the therapist or listener to follow the direction of the speaker or client. In sales, Drollinger and others argued that there are three main tenets to AEL: sensing (listening), processing (understanding) and responding. The idea is that you can listen most effectively when you deeply listen, when you truly understand what the customer is saying to you and you can respond back accurately.
"To attentively listen to consumers, organizations need to meet them where they are and adopt the methods of communication that resonate the most."
Therapists and salespeople seem to understand the importance of active empathetic listening in order to help people feel more trust, gather information and prove that they understand. These principles have been used for successful therapy sessions and to drive sales — even social media marketing is beginning to deploy a form of AEL. It’s time we applied these same principles to establish better relationships with customers throughout the entire customer journey, including marketing, customer support and any other touchpoint.
As a company, making yourself available to real dialogue throughout the entire journey is key to creating a great experience overall. So how do you listen to your customers and open up the possibility for meaningful two-way conversations?
Hubspot’s 2020 State of Service research indicates that high growth companies do this very thing by investing in strategies like tracking customer satisfaction, disseminating surveys, monitoring customer feedback on social media platforms and tracking NPS scores.
Another surefire way to open those lines of communication to authentic two-way conversations is through text messaging. Ninety-six percent of adults own cell phones today, according to Pew Research, which means that virtually every American adult is reachable via text messaging. And 81 percent of those phones are smartphones, which people rarely go anywhere without. This is one of the most popular means of communication today, and it’s one that customers prefer. It’s no surprise that nine out of 10 consumers say they want businesses to communicate with them via text message. To attentively listen to consumers, organizations need to meet them where they are and adopt the methods of communication that resonate the most.
If you want to communicate better with customers, two-way conversations allow you to listen and truly understand what their needs are. This, and communicating with them through means that make sense for ease and convenience, is the best way to open up to two-way dialogue.