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How to use intentional listening to benefit your customers and your bottom line

6 min read
Jessica Thiefels

Customer retention is the lifeblood of sales and the core way that service teams can impact the bottom line. At the same time, 93% of service teams agree that customer expectations are higher in 2020 than in years past, according to recent data from HubSpot. Combined with the economic downturn, this makes retention that much harder. This is where intentional listening becomes crucial.

When you think about it, you and your team interact with customers all the time. You respond to comments and messages on social media. You send out surveys to obtain feedback. Your website has a tab for reviews.

The question is, are you intentionally listening to your clients?

How much of their feedback do you actually hear, digest and implement? When you actively tune in, you’ll learn how to better serve your customers and improve customer experience, which encourages repeat business and increases your profit margin.

First, let’s understand what intentional listening is and how you can leverage it in your business.

Intentional listening defined

The first step in intentional listening is taking in information with the goal of understanding, not just responding. To practice intentional listening, you must focus on the entire meaning of what is communicated, instead of formulating a rebuttal or selectively choosing what to address.

The second step is implementing what you’re hearing—shifting the customer experience or your sales process in response to what the customer said.

In this way, intentional listening shows them that you welcome their input, value their needs and empathize with their concerns.

The third step is prepping yourself and your team with the tools needed to listen actively and intentionally on all platforms, whether they’re having a phone call or commenting on social media. Without the right tools, these conversations happen less often.

Intentionally listening to your clients will not only make them happy, but also give you an edge over competitors. In fact, nearly 50% of consumers think most businesses are not empathetic or personal enough in their external communication, according to a 2020 Genesys poll.

Related: How to prioritize clients during uncertain times — and why you should

Be intentional with your technology choices

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To be a great listener, you need to know the platforms that customers actually want to communicate on. In our modern world, you also need to offer diverse, flexible options to serve everyone’s needs within your audience.

For example, 2019 data from NICE inContact found that nearly 60% of Generation Z and Millennials had used private social messaging for customer service while only 38% of Gen X and 19% of Baby Boomers had done so.

Consider which of the following communication technology solutions you need to invest in:

  • Voice over Internet Protocol: To streamline communication while catering to all preferences, consider a VoIP system. This guide explains the value of this technology for reaching customers no matter where your team is located: “A VoIP system doesn’t rely on the traditional phone line—everything is powered and streamlined by a broadband internet connection. With Wi-Fi as the medium, users gain more functionality and reliability, and a diverse line-up of features.”
  • Social media: If you’re not taking customer queries on social media, you’re missing an opportunity to connect with your customers on a daily basis—in a place where many of them are most active. Take this one step further, however, and connect your social media inboxes to your customer relationship management tool so you never miss a message.
  • Artificial intelligence: Consumers are beginning to interact with AI-based communication tools like website chatbots more and more. In fact, 60% of those surveyed in LivePerson’s 2019 conversational commerce report said they have used a chatbot in the last year. Your current CRM may even already offer this feature.
  • Texting/messaging: The same LivePerson report found that 65% of respondents would like to communicate with businesses via messaging such as texting. Creating a text-based support line may open you up to more conversations.

Be intentional about understanding clearly

While interacting with any customer—whether it’s in a chat message or over the phone—listening with intention means that you’re investing your full attention to the conversation. Turn off distractions or background noise, do not multitask on other projects and jot down notes to help you recall the main points of the conversation.

If you need clarification, repeat back to the customer what they just said to reassure that you were listening and to check if you have the right information.

Once both you and the customer are satisfied that you understand the issue and have collected the relevant data, you can move toward a solution.

Being responsive, confirming the details and taking the customer’s pain points seriously can build trust, and 75% of buying decisions are motivated by trust, according to a survey from Edelman.

Related: 4 simple tactics for understanding your customers

Be intentional about putting empathy first

Ultimately, customers want to be treated with respect and compassion, so view them first as human beings. Before you take measures to fix a situation, be empathetic to their concerns, validate their emotions and do not interrupt them with a solution or counterargument.

Even if a resolution is simple and obvious to you, approach the interaction like it’s a deep, meaningful relationship. How would you respond to someone you care about? You would listen intentionally and commiserate with how they feel prior to laying out an action plan.

If using this relationship model increases your customer retention by just 5%, that can translate into a 25% growth in profit, according to Bain & Company. Each consumer is a real person, not a faceless transaction, so lead with kindness.

Why intentional listening matters

Man and woman shaking hands

Intentionally listening to your clients means making it easy for the customer to reach out on whichever platform is most comfortable or convenient for them. It ensures that when they do reach you—you’re listening.

In this way, you and your team seek to understand, gather information, and communicate empathy, rather than simply solve a problem or end a conversation quickly.

Intentional listening values human connection and most importantly, encourages you to use the feedback in a way that’s beneficial for the customer and your business.