The competitive advantage of listening
One thing that’s emerged with the rise in media channels and social media is that more people, brands and companies are broadcasting rather than listening. We now reside in a loud din of thoughts, comments, articles, sales pitches, ideas, views, feedback and updates . Such is the volume of noise that people of all ages are developing selective hearing. We have become adept at screening things out rather than listening.
In fact we’ve begun to accept that we rarely listened to. We think nothing of people not replying to emails straight away. We are pleasantly surprised when an online comment is responsed to, a blog posting commented on and social media updates actively acknowledged. We don’t expect people to call us back when we leave a voice message and we don’t expect them to remember what we told them the last time we met. We assume everyone is busy and so we naturally let them off listening to us. Interestingly though, we still carry on broadcasting.
Stand out from the crowd by listening
This means that when someone does listen to you, responds to an email, voicemail, online comment etc – they really stand out. You’re grateful, you’re impressed and they certainly rise in your estimation.
Secretly, people like being listened to. It makes us feel valued, it makes us feel heard and in a noisy world such as ours that’s becoming a rarity. We remember and value those who listen to us and seem interested in what we have to say.
The competitive advantages business listening brings
Put in a business context, if you take time out to listen to your customers or contacts, you are in a much better position to understand what’s going on with their life and current situation. This insight is hugely valuable and listening enables you to:
- Offer help and solutions that resonate 100% with them, rather than miss the mark.
- Spot opportunities to add more value or sell other products/services, which you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered
- Improve your existing product/service provision to better reflect your market’s changing needs and wants
- Find ways to enable others in your network to help this contact – benefitting and adding value to them in the process
- Prove you genuinely care so they’re impressed and recommend you to others
- Demonstrate your responsiveness and steal the edge over a rival
- Leave proof that you do respond to comments, questions and feedback so potential customers feel more reassured in turning to you
What is good listening?
Listening is not looking for what you want to hear so you can pounce and say your bit or deliver your sales pitch. Online, it’s not (in our opinion) delegating your customer response approach to a bot.
In fact good listening is hard to master. Many people and businesses pretend they are listening whilst going through the motions. They think they can get by without really ‘tuning in’. They develop the habitual nod of acknowledgement, the look of concern, an automated response. Feigning interest is obvious and fatal to establishing a relationship with a customer or contact.
John Timperley of The Results Consultancy explains, “Listening is often confused with hearing. Hearing uses just one of our 5 senses to convey information received by the ears to the brain. Listening involves the process of analysing, interpreting, understanding and giving meaning to what has been heard.”
Good listening starts with the mindset I am genuinely interested in you and what you have to say. I can only add value to you or contribute well to this conversation if I listen to you. And you will only open up to me if you feel I am listening to you. That works just as much online as it does face-to-face or on the phone.
On the phone and face-to-face
In meetings and phone conversations it pays to consider the physical messages you are sending as your contact talks to you. Whilst talking, your customer or contact is assessing these messages to gauge if you’re interested in what they have to say. They will stop talking if they sense you’re not listening or look/sound bored. They will also stop if you constantly interrupt them.
Of course most communication now is online often with an expectation in people for an immediate response. Increasingly those businesses who do demonstrate they’re listening build greater goodwill and loyalty than those who don’t.
So do monitor and comment positively on your valued contact and customers’ online postings. Show you’re listening and interested in what they’ve said and, if possible, contribute encouraging comments or helpful insight to the debate or discussion.
Ensure your business is agile to respond quickly to online comments and give help, guidance and feedback whenever there’s a need. When responding, ensure you have people who can do so with empathy, warmth and a genuine desire to help. Sometimes they won’t have all the answers straight away, but if they keep the person informed about the steps they’re taking, and deliver on their promises, your business will impress.
There have already been cases of customers delivering a public online backlash when their initial comments have met a deafening and protracted silence from a company or brand. Similarly there have been positive examples of business opportunities being spotted and converted from social media updates.
As time goes on, our world will just get noisier. So do utilise the power of listening to show to customers and contacts that you’re different. It can really help you build a competitive advantage over your rivals. Finally, if you are going to adopt selective hearing, make sure it’s not your customers’ and contacts’ broadcasts you screen out.
For more advice on marketing your business contact us or tel. 01483 429111.
A version of this article first appeared on the entrepreneur site, Women Unlimited. It has been updated to reflect recent times and developments.