Listening seems like the most logical thing to do in business, doesn’t it? Yet everyday, I see the heavy cost that businesses pay for not listening. I see it in the news, in my practice and all around me. Here is my breakout on where you, the business owner need to listen best and some ways to turn up your listening skills.
According to Tom Peters, the author of “In Search of Excellence”, a Harvard Study found that entrepreneurs, business leaders and even physicians interrupted employees or patients within 18 seconds of the conversation. This astounding finding obviously has huge consequences for internal employee morale and patient case outcome.
The next level of listening you need to do is at the market level. Such as my client who refused to listen to the market when she picked her niche. As the child of an immigrant CEO who had suffered the indignity of lower wages and less access to the C-suite in Canada, she decided to become a career coach for immigrant CEOs like her dad. She would be helping them secure jobs with equal pay and equal clout as their Canadian counterparts. Lo and behold, she won an award from the Government for her efforts but she had no actual clients who would pay for her services. Contrary to my advice, she never listened to the market before picking her niche.
The 3rd level of listening needs to happen at the customer level. For example, the now-fired-CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch was instrumental in defining the come-back strategy of the dilapidated brand in a saturated clothing retail market. So, he created the brand character of the gorgeous, thin, decidedly caucasian athletic popular high school student. He hired people in that vein, he advertised using talent of that vein. He even produced products for that kind of person, refusing to manufacture large sized women’s clothing for his brand. Well, it worked initially to revitalize the brand but now they are swimming in lawsuits and racism claims. They were blinded by their brand character and forgot to listen to the changing customer demands.
One on One Techniques
One Harvard Business Review published study found that some specific techniques could help improve one on one listening. Things such as repeating the last few words back to the other person, repeating what was said instead of rephrasing it, asking questions and reading non-verbal cues were all found to improve this skill.
When clients hire me to grow their business, the first thing we do is ask the market to strategically identify where there is a gap. We call them “Pain Questions”. We are constantly meeting with target decision makers and asking them where it hurts. When you systematically and strategically ask the market what it needs, you can’t go wrong.
Listening to Customers
Perhaps the most important of the three kinds of listening, this one is the one that will keep your lights on. Customer retention is one of the most expensive problems to have. You can avoid this problem by improving your listening through several programs. One, could be a feedback program you have with clients. Another, could be regular check-in meetings where you’re asking them “what do you need, how are you doing?”. Lastly, outside auditors and advisors can also provide you the much needed avenue for listening to your customers much more closely.
If you think you may not have been listening properly in your business, don’t miss out on these details above. After all, the cost of not listening is too great.