Customer What? Are You Listening?

I was fortunate to attend the New Media Dayton 2nd Saturday meet-up on Saturday, February 13, 2010. The guest host was Gina Kay Landis. The speaker this month was Brad Ditzell, store manager of MacTown in Dayton. I would be remiss if I did not thank the sponsor of the event, 252West Salon. And of course, a very special 'thank you' to Carole Hicks .. these events would not happen without her passion for social media. Thank you!  Brad's topic was "The Art of Listening."  He did an excellent job of relating this topic to real life. My favorite 'exercise' was when we shared some of our most frustrating customer service experiences. It is interesting how long many of us remember a bad experience. There was a lot of passion too. One of the experiences went back almost 25 years. My personal experience occurred about 7 years ago and I still remember if vividly.  With the emotion surrounding these experiences comes one more bad thing ... these stories have legs! When we have a bad customer service experience, we tell all of our friends. 

Brad made a comment that stuck for me. He said, "Customer service is dead".  What? I am passionate about the customer experience, but what does this have to do with the 'Art of Listening'? He went on to point out that it is not longer about customer service, it is about customer satisfaction.

What does this have to do with the 'Art of Listening'? Far to often we hear what the customer says, but we don't understand. One of my favorite books is "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey. Habit #5 is: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. Seeking to understand is not a passive activity. Listening to UNDERSTAND requires you to be proactive. What is the customer really saying? What is behind the words. Do you really understand what she needs?

I had a bad experience with an airline a few years ago. My flight was delayed. It was obvious that it was going to be several hours before the flight would actually depart. There was a problem with the mechanics in the wing and parts were scattered all over the ground. I could easily see the mechanics scratching their heads. The flurry of activity was all there for me to see out the window. Despite the obvious complexity and seriousness of the situation, the gate agent continued to insist that the flight was going to depart in 30 minutes. We were asked 'not to leave the gate area'.  Several hours later, we boarded the plane. I wrote the airline and shared my story and frustration. All I really wanted was for them to understand the need for honesty. I can deal with weather or mechanical delays, just tell me the facts.  They send me a 'standard form letter' and a voucher toward a flight. I was not happy. They did not respond to my concern. How difficult would it be to personalize the response - to be remarkable? (Note: for a great blog post on being remarkable, read the comments by one of my favorite authors and blogger Seth Godin: How to be remarkable)

So, if you want to set your business apart, go beyond customer service and listen to understand and then generate customer satisfaction.