How well do you actually listen to your customers?  It’s not enough in this day and age to make a decent product, pay for some advertising to attract eyeballs and ship the product out the door.  If that’s where you are as a businessperson, then odds are you’ll be acquired by a competitor before long. The customer has always been king, but in today’s environment, the king has more and better information than ever before.

Ask the Right Questions

When a customer complains, the number one goal on your mind should be getting to the root of the problem.  It’s often the case that what the customer thinks is the problem might just be a symptom of something else.  You can’t get there if you just ask a series of closed-ended, yes-or-no questions.  Instead, ask leading questions that get the customer talking so you can get to the root of the problem.  Once you’ve properly identified the issue, the solution usually presents itself.  Even with cases in which it doesn’t, you’ve come quite far in expressing empathy and that you are actively trying to understand and address their concerns.

What’s in a Name?

One of the best ways that you can demonstrate to the customer that you’re truly listening is to use their name in conversation.  Even better, by personalizing the conversation, you’re demonstrating that you’re not just seeing them as a nameless, faceless consumer. They’re not one of many. They’re not just a checkbox on a laundry list of problems you have to deal with today, but a specific, named individual that you’re paying attention to. That is as important as it is powerful.

Stop Selling

One of the worst things you can do, a sure sign that you aren’t actually listening to your customers, is stay in “sales mode” when a customer is bringing a problem to you.  That’s not the time to sell them something else. They’ve clearly got an issue with one of your products or services, and your attempt to sell them a different product or service a) does not actually address their problem, and b) makes it more likely that you’ll lose them as a customer altogether.

What you want to do in these cases is stop trying to sell and start trying to save the customer before he throws his hands up in frustration and walks out the door. To do that, you need to demonstrate that you’ve heard and understood the issue. The best way to do that is to restate it.

Once you’ve demonstrated a good understanding of the customer’s concerns, don’t stop there. Now, you need to provide or recommend a solution. Your solution should not be something that revolves around you selling to the customer. You need to actually fix the problem, or the odds are good that you’ll lose the customer in addition to the sale. True, there are exceptions to every rule and it can happen, but your customer won’t be happy about it even in the best case. Remember, bad news spreads faster than good, so make sure your customer is delighted with your problem solving skills.