Shhh, just listen!

We’ve all had the experience at some point in our lives where we are explaining a problem to someone and mid sentence, they jump in with their resolution. Of course, this is the desired response–we want our problem solved! But, how often do we find that due to not listening to our entire story, not all pieces of the issue are addressed?

I know I’m guilty of this myself, but am actively trying to change this behavior. I recall, early on in my customer service career, I would speak to a customer and as soon as they said something like, “I cannot send email”, I’d jump into the conversation, with so much enthusiasm, and help them change their outgoing SMTP record. Then, an hour later, the same customer contacts us again, saying they still cannot send email another representative walks them through the same resolution. Another hour later, they call again. We go through the SMTP settings and come to find the customer actually has all of their other email settings incorrect and cannot receive email either. Now, if instead of breaking into the conversation, assuming that I have the answer, if I would have listened, it would have saved time and frustration for the customer as well as for myself and the rest of the customer service team.

This morning, I watched Ernesto Sirolli’s (@sirollinstitute) lecture, “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!” (highly recommended) and this is one story he shares about growing tomatoes:

So we arrived in this beautiful part of the country, these five Italian kids, and started to clear this piece of land by the mighty Zambezi River — which in that place is a quarter mile wide. When they cleared this land with the help of the workers from the village, they discovered that this soil was like chocolate — so beautiful, so fertile. The Italians said, what’s wrong with the native people? Why don’t they grow something here? Are they stupid, or what? Let’s teach them agriculture.

And so the first crop the Italians put in, of course, was tomatoes. They had these wonderful selected seeds from Italy, and they planted four or five acres by the river. These tomatoes grew and grew because of the soil by the river, all the water that you want, and the African sun. They grew to the size of rock melons. The Italians took pictures, and said to the Zambian workers, do you see how easy it is?

The morning they were to go and harvest the tomatoes, they got the tractor, they hitched up the trailer with all the crates. And they arrived in the field, and there was nothing left. No tomatoes, there are no plants, no green, nothing. The soil has been churned over. The Italians looked at the river, and in the river were 300 hippos, digesting tons of tomatoes!

Until that day the Italians thought that they were intelligent and the natives were stupid. That day, they turned to the native people, the Zambians. The Zambian workers said, yeah, they love it, that’s why we never plant anything by the river!

While I laugh at this story, it’s so true! They never gave the locals a time to jump in and tell them WHY they didn’t plant here. Or, if they tried to tell them, the Italians thought they were the experts and didn’t bother to listen.

I’ve adopted a habit of listening to the customer, down to their very last syllable. Until they have nothing left to say and there’s silence. I’ll do this for the happy customers. For the very angry customers. For customers who just want to express their thoughts on our service, good or bad. Taking the time to listen gives both the speaker and the listener a foundation for expression, appreciation, learning and proper resolution. And that foundation is what builds a relationship of trust between customer and company.

So, how can you be a better listener today?

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  • So simple and yet not so simple. This is a discipline for sure. I’m challenged to silence all the noise (ie Music, Computer, Smart Phone) and really listen to people. This is a great example of Habit 5! I think it’s habit 5 in #7habits.

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