Humans are prone to cognitive biases, and that means customers are too. The subconscious constantly perceives situations and people, and these perceptions shape daily communications. Often, we are too quick to judge situations or people — a common reason why conversations don’t end well.
So, how can you communicate meaningfully with customers, without being judgemental?
According to the best selling book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, the key is to know the difference between making an observation and making a judgment.
By separating observation from judgment, you’re less likely to say something that becomes an argument and more likely to inspire compassion and positive reactions from customers.
|This customer is rude.||Something must have annoyed this customer.|
|This customer is unreasonable||This customer might be comparing us to competitors.|
|This customer has trust issues.||This customer might have had a bad customer experience.|
Understanding underlying customer motives, and creating approaches based on this understanding, is a great way to address customer communication.
1. Don’t listen with an agenda
As Dr. Stephen Covey once said, “Seek first to understand… then, to be understood”.
It’s very easy to find yourself in selling mode when talking to potential customers. However, that approach makes it much harder to listen to customers and directly solve their issues.
According to CreditDonkey, people spend between 70 and 80% of their day engaged in some form of communication, with about 55% of their time devoted to listening.
Telltale signs of not listening? Finishing people’s sentences. Talking when others are still talking. Or silence without listening; formulating thoughts while waiting for any little gap to jump in.
So, what can you do about it? Here are some tips to sharpen your customer listening skills:
- Wait to speak. Listening without an agenda requires practice. Wait until the other person finishes, and trust that you will be heard.
- Hold off on internal debating. Refrain from any answers or arguments clouding your mind before customers finish speaking. This is the most important attribute of a good listener.
- Keep a clear mind. Remind yourself to be absolutely focused. While you are in conversation, you may get distracted. Make sure to bring your attention back to the conversation as you realize.
- Create a safe space for dialogue. Allow customers to speak their minds. Understand that people have their own set of values, opinions, temperaments, and conversational skills - and accept that they might differ from yours.
Let customers express themselves without jumping in to correct them or split hairs and debate. Give them the chance to speak their ideas in their way; it won’t lessen your ideas, after all.
2. Don’t use absolutes
Terms like “always”, “never”, “nothing” and “everything” are communication killers.
Absolute terms create cognitive distortions. They bias interpretations of the things around us, undermine our perceptions, and reduce our ability to see things from a customers’ perspective.
Always and never can make customers either stubborn or defensive in their approach, creating a rift.
What are some examples of absolutes?
- “You never sent me that email” (You are blaming someone)
- “Call me sometime soon” (Chances are you have no intention of taking a call soon)
- “You can always reschedule the meeting” (You are encouraging customers to further reschedule the meeting)
Instead, use specifics.
1) “I don’t see that email in my inbox, can you resend it?” (You are not playing any blame game, just requesting the email)
2) “Let's schedule a meeting at 4 p.m. next Tuesday” (You are preparing your customers)
3) “I see your schedule is tight. Let's find some space on Saturdays. What do you say?” (Politely asking the customer to be on the call)
Sometimes it’s tempting to beat around the bush if we're uncertain about what we're talking about or we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Always be frank, direct, and clear in your communication. Anything less confuses your message, wasting everyone's time.
Here are a few more tips:
- Narrow down your arguments.
- Remember you are not conversing to prove your point. The purpose is to get an appropriate response.
- Address one question at a time. If you add in more unnecessary information, your customers will lose track.
- Add examples to support any points you make.
3. Don’t assume
Assumptions are communication shortcuts, They create a gap between what needs delivering and what is perceived.
Assumptions come from our perspective, experience, and values. We only think in our limited frame of reference, and that’s why we have biased opinions, leading us to leap to conclusions without fully understanding situations.
What can you do about it?
- Accept that you do not know everything. Clear your head from any prejudices. It is good to have a reason for the conversation but not a pre-formed opinion on how it will go.
- Take notes if necessary. If the discussion is long, it's useful to refer back to them.
- Don't interrupt. Write down any questions that you intend to ask.
- Repeat what the speaker has addressed. Confirm, repeat and reflect on what he has said.
4. Don’t forget about non-verbal behavior
All your non-verbal behaviors are observed by your customers, even if you are not aware. Your posture, tone, eye contact, and hand moments all signal your thoughts and emotions. This can either put customers at ease or put them off.
Contradictions in your non-verbal communication are liable to create mistrust and confusion on the listeners’ side.
Since non-verbal communication naturally shows your thought process, it is very difficult to fake. Nor is it something that can be changed overnight.
To fully take charge of your nonverbal signals, you have to consciously make the effort to register the gestures and facial expressions you make in different situations.
What can you do about it?
Watch how you are managing yourself when stressed. Stressful situations are the biggest giveaways of your non-verbal communication.
The best thing to do during stress is to hold yourself still for a moment. Once you regain emotional equilibrium, you will have much better control over your nonverbal gestures.
4. Don’t ignore your emotions.
We adults give too little importance to our thoughts and feelings, often afraid to confront them. However, according to Psychology Today, people who know how to regulate their emotions are more psychologically healthy.
Disconnecting from our emotions doesn't pay off, as they subconsciously our behavior. By developing emotional awareness and confronting unpleasant experiences, you will have a better understanding of how you think and react in trying circumstances.
5. Don’t think customers are always right
Peter Fader explains in his book on customer centricity that customers are not always right.
Some customers are petulant. No business is dependent on a single customer, and it would be unwise to ask your employees to waste valuable energy on customers who are impossible to satisfy.
If you ask your employees to place too much effort into satisfying these customers, they may become demotivated and potentially lose sight of the valuable contributions they make.
So which behaviors are the worst?
- Constant complaining
- Verbal abuse
- Not paying on time
1. Do conduct a customer sentiment analysis
When you monitor sentiments, you measure your customers’ tone, context, and feelings about your business. Whether a customer completes a purchase, leaves a review, or mentions your company on social media, there is always an emotional state connected to their action.
If you have a direct feedback channel from your customers, figure out a way to assign scores to the feedback to measure sentiment.
Take customer support emails for example. Most support systems come with the ability to tag and categorize customer conversations so you can easily assign a type and tone to the request.
2. Do ask open-ended questions
Multiple choice and closed-ended questions can only tell you so much. Open-ended questions allow you to find out more than you might have anticipated, creating endless possibilities and helping to enrich your data. You may discover something new and build further context around what your customer is thinking.
Here are some examples of closed-ended questions and their open counterparts:
|Closed-Ended Questions||Open-Ended Questions|
|Do you have any questions?||I am sure you must have some questions. How can we improve your experience with our product/services?|
|Does that make sense?||I know I have shared a lot of information. I am going to pause for a moment. How are you feeling about what's been presented?|
|Can we help you?||How can we help your business scale?|
|Did you find what you were looking for?||How was your experience with us today?|
3. Do make use of technology that facilitates easy communication
Having the right tools makes a world of a difference in your customer communication strategy. One way to level up your conversations? Make sure you’re connecting with customers instantly. While ticketing is a common way to handle support, tools like live chat enable companies to reach out to customers in real time.
Sometimes chatting isn’t enough. To help overcome the shortcomings of purely verbal and text-based communication, use cobrowsing technology, which brings customer service agents and customers together on the same page, enabling both real time conversation and problem-solving. Not convinced? See it to believe it.
4. Do use the value of a silent pause
Silence is an extraordinarily underutilized tool. Many people try to fill gaps in conversation without really having a point to make.
Pause before you respond. This gives you ample time to choose your approach, thoughts, or words to the best effect. Pausing also helps you maintain your tone and adjust your volume and message according to the situation.
In this process, you allow customers time to reflect on what has been said, their thoughts, and any questions or concerns they might have. Sometimes it’s hard to stay silent. We have to push ourselves, but it’s critical to maintaining composure.
Now it's your turn. Which customer communication hack do you feel is most important? Are there any we missed? Let us know in the comments below.