A month ago I was getting ready to write my newsletter article when the world suddenly got crazier than it already was. I told my daughter I just didn’t know what I was going to say. I didn’t feel like I had anything to add to the conversation at that moment. She said maybe the thing to do was say nothing at all – just listen.

Thinking back on the fundamentals, I’m reminded that all communication involves both a sender and a receiver. And yet, often we think of marketing communications as outgoing only – a series of messages designed to influence a target audience. Part of the marketing craft is understanding what motivates the consumer. The goal is to get the receiver to dosomething – to buy your product or service. Often this is the only reason to listen to the customer.

Do you hear that?

What does it mean to listen to your customer? It feels pretty cynical if listening is merely a means to improve your manipulation skills. Maybe it’s time to expect more from companies than pure, naked consumerism.

Until now, it was enough for companies to have a bullet point in their mission statement about commitment to diversity and the environment. Until now, it was understood that product was everything, regardless of how it’s delivered. Until now, our most important needs and desires were reflected for us by designated influencers.

Now could be the time when companies and organizations learn to truly listen. This is no small task. In fact, it’s massively complex in a large corporation where even employee feedback is gathered through expensive surveys. And, when you’re conducting a big survey you need to have a pretty good idea of what information you’re going to gather – before you gather it. This limits your ability to listen openly.

Small is good.

As a small company you likely don’t have the money for a quantitative survey, but you do have the opportunity to engage with your customers on a daily basis. A great deal of your listening can be done one-to-one. I think there’s a reason quarantined people are missing their hairdressers and bartenders. These are the people who ask open-ended questions and listen while we talk. They know all about us, and they certainly know enough to serve the right drink – or the right hairstyle – and keep you coming back.

One of the best ways to hear people is to stop selling. This can be painfully difficult if you’re a salesperson who lives by the motto: “Never stop selling.” The key is to remember that a conversation isn’t a waste of time. It’s the best relationship builder and a chance to throw away your assumptions about the people you serve and replace them with pure reality.

Keep your ears open.

Beyond direct face-to-face, there are other ways you can get feedback from those who support your business and make it run. If you’re the kind of company that shows you’re open to feedback, you’ll get it, but you’ve got to learn to listen.

It’s tempting to want to respond to consumer reviews or social media posts with detailed explanations about company policies. But often your customer just wants to know you heard them, and that you’re taking their suggestion to heart. When you respond online with humanity and sincerity, you’re telling your whole community that you’re listening and taking all of their experiences into account.

You may not have a highly interactive customer base. This doesn’t mean they’re not thinking of you. Keep communicating with them, and let them know you’re there when they have something to share. Meanwhile, count the number of referrals you get from past clients as a form of communication. Customers who keep coming back are saying how much they value your services. Tell them how much they mean to you.

Let me know what you’re thinking! I’m here to help – and to listen.

Written July 1, 2020. Copyright 2020 Liz Behlke