You’ve been there. You need to ask a question at the grocery store of someone who is clearly busy. You can see they are only half listening to you, barley making eye contact. They interrupt you before you even finish your question and point you to the other side of the store before hurriedly going back to stacking apples. You head over to your destination feeling a little off-put, and when you arrive, instead of cream of tartar in baking, they’ve sent you to dairy and you’ve looking at a big bottle of half and half.
How could this exchange have changed if the store representative had taken the time to hear you? If they had faced you, made eye contact, and listened without interrupting our jumping to conclusions. Would it have taken very much longer to answer your request? Would you have left the store feeling positive instead of unheard? Would you be more likely to return in the future instead of going to that other grocery across the street?
Thinking of your own store, it’s logical to want to give your customers the best possible customer service and it’s clear that active listening is a key. Below are 5 steps to active listening tailored for storeowners and their employees.
- Make eye contact. When a customer approaches you or an employee with a question or comment, chances are you will be doing something else. Take the time to stop what you are doing, face your customer and make eye contact. Avoid looking around the room and instead, focus on the person for the entire conversation. This active attention will have a positive impact on the situation, making your customer feel valued and help diffuse the situation if you are being approached with a complaint.
- Don’t interrupt. As a child most of us were taught that it is rude interrupt, but these days it sometimes feels that “he who yells loudest” is the norm. Go back to your roots and train yourself to allow your customer to talk without intruding on their train of thought.
- Ask clarifying questions at natural pauses. Of course a conversation is a two way street and you are bound to have questions for your customer. As part of not interrupting, wait until they have a natural pause, and say something like “I’m hearing you, but let’s jump back a little bit to make sure I understand your point about…”
- Listen without making assumptions. It is natural to fill in the gaps, our brain does it automatically—in fact without this ability we wouldn’t be able to look at a series of still images and see a movie! However, when we are actively listening we must temper this skill to hear the customer out fully, before deciding what they mean or need.
- Summarize the request to ensure understanding. Finally, before offering your customer a solution, summarize the request or complaint so they can confirm that you understand what they are saying. This is good for several reasons aside from simply checking for understanding. First, if your customer is angry and complaining, this step shows you really ARE hearing them and that can diffuse at least a little of their feelings. Second, it offers your customer a chance to add more detail, which can be a goldmine for you in finding out more information on a product or service you offer.
With these 5 steps to active listening, from making eye contact and not interrupting through summarizing the conversation, you can make your customers feel more at ease and diffuse tense situations. But surprisingly, we hear one of the best parts of active listening is the relationships it allows you and your staff to develop with your customers. When you recognize them as real people, your customers feel valued which can lead to repeat business. After all, aren’t you more likely to shop at the grocery store whose employees listen to your questions and make sure they are meeting your needs rather than the ones who send you to the dairy section for baking ingredients?