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How To Actually Hear What Customers Say

Written by Molly Talbert | on December 17, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Any kid could tell you there’s a difference between just listening and actually hearing. They know right away if a parent is giving them their full attention or if their mind is wandering off into other territory. How do you think kids feel when they know they don’t have their parent’s full attention? Maybe frustrated, annoyed, like their time isn’t valued.

Distracted listening doesn’t just happen between parents and children. It can happen in your community and make your members or customers feel unvalued and not worth the community manager’s time. That’s the last thing you want.

Listening to your members or customers and actually hearing what they say is critical. Not only will they feel validated and contribute more, but you’ll learn more about what makes them tick. This is invaluable to you -- it’ll help you cater to them and create better products.

Although we often take listening for granted, we’re not necessarily good at it. We’re too caught up in our own stresses, ideas and thoughts to truly pay attention. Luckily, there are proven ways to become a better listener. Many of these methods are derived from leadership and executive coaching tactics -- it makes sense, since they’re basically professional listeners.

In a lot of ways, becoming a better listener involves breaking a bad habit -- letting your mind wander, making assumptions, etc. -- and forming a new habit. First, you need to define what the bad habit and good habit look like. In this case, what does bad listening look like and what does good listening look like? Next is to become aware of when the bad habit creeps into your listening and you need to switch.

The levels of listening is one coaching method that could help you break your bad habit and start a good habit. This method categorizes listening into three levels, starting with surface level and distracted to more focused and aware. If you can tap into three different levels in yourself, your listening and understanding will improve -- making your members feel supported and giving you more insight.

The Three Levels of Listening:

1. Level One: Internal Listening

Let’s be honest -- in our day-to-day lives, we’re often at this level. We hear what people say, but their words are often clouded by our own inner monologue, feelings, opinions and judgements. An example: when you tell someone a story and they cut you off saying, “Oh, something exactly like that happened to me” and proceed to tell you all about it. Or, perhaps worse, their eyes glaze over and they check their phone while you talk.

This kind of listening has its social place, like when you’re talking with friends or making the rounds at a cocktail party. But if you read through discussions in your community and comment at this level, your judgement may be clouded and your responses not appropriate. If you see a question and immediately think, “That’s a dumb question, who would ask that?” you’re probably at this level of listening, letting judgement cloud understanding. If that’s the case, you may not answer questions correctly, or appear off putting to members because of a bias or missing insights.

2. Level Two: Focused Listening

If you want to truly hear what your members/clients say, this is the level you should be at while you scroll through discussions. This involves shutting off that inner monolog and focusing on what the members’ ideas and intentions. Turn off your judgement -- no question is a dumb question -- and look at the discussions with an open mind.

This level of listening is a powerful tool since you won’t hear what you want or expect to hear -- you actually hear what members/clients mean. That deeper understanding will increase your community knowledge and understanding, allowing you to better serve members/clients.

3. Level Three: Global Listening

In the coaching context, global listening means tuning into the body language, mood and energy of the person speaking. Since your community is virtual, you can’t key into whether or not the person speaking is shifting,sweating,weirdly calm or just normal. Instead, take into consideration the climate of the community as a whole, the context of the comment in the discussion, etc. Is the comment in line with how that person normally acts, or do they seem harsher? Communication is often about more than just words, so being aware of the larger context gives you better understanding of where the member/client is coming from.

Really, in all of this, it’s important to set aside your prejudices and preconceived notions. In the end, does it matter what you think of the conversation? A community is useless to your organization if you just hear what you want to hear. You need to listen to what’s actually being said, even if you don’t like it. Those realizations take some work, but will help you shape your organization and product into what your customers want, not what you think they want. If you do that, both you and your customers will be happier in the end.


Topics: Customer Communities, Member Engagement, Customer Support, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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