Have you ever called a support center to get help with problem with your cable service or anti-virus software and found yourself saying the same thing over and over but getting no results? Or maybe you contacted your mobile phone service provider to ask some questions, but instead of answers the agent kept trying to give you solutions? This is what happens when service providers are listening to “respond” rather than listening to “understand”.

Even in a non-customer environment we have internal customers like our bosses, peers, co-workers, direct reports, etc. At work, we are conditioned to answer every email as quickly as possible. Information is coming at us from all directions and in large volumes. Our laptops, phones, electronic devices, children, spouses, parents and friends are all wanting something from us or trying to remind us to do something. As a result our society has evolved into very good responders, but the volume of information has reduced our effectiveness. I think that many of us would like to pride in our ability to quickly turnaround a request, provide a solution, or get ahead of the curve on that new project, etc. After all, we have been conditioned to listen to “respond” and that behavior has served us well for many years.

Obviously, this behavior is not limited to the customer service industry. Have you ever sent an email to friend or spouse and received a response back that made no sense because they didn’t read the complete message? Or maybe you are guilty of not reading the full email and jumping to a conclusion because you skipped those last 2 sentences or paragraphs? I have. OUCH! It really hurt, too. Have you ever found yourself responding to your child or spouse and realizing you had not listened to what they asked? I admit that I resemble that remark as well! We all get so used to completing each others’ sentences that we think we always know what we are being asked or told. Depending in the environment or situation, there can be serious repercussions for responding inappropriately.  Making assumptions can be dangerous in the healthcare industry – listening to understand is imperative to keep patients safe and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment.

The benefits of Customer Experience concepts and Customer Service best practices are not limited to the service-oriented businesses. All of us can realize benefits from them in our personal and professional lives as well. And listening to understand is one place we can all slow down and connect rather than responding for the sake of responding. It has almost become Pavlovian for us. If we are going to improve the customer experience we provide, then we must change. We must design the difference and that difference is “listening to understand” so that we accurately understand the problem, provide the right solutions and deliver appropriate responses.

Here is a real-life example to help illustrate this point in business. Years ago my support team had a customer who called us regarding printing problems when using they used our software. The ticket had been opened for over a month and had been bounced around the various support tiers and team leads until finally someone told the customer the software was working as designed and there was nothing that could be done (by the way, never tell a customer that). At this point, the customer called me very upset. I was already aware of the issue and I, too, didn’t believe there was a technical solution to the problem, but I didn’t want be one more person saying “no”. I really thought I was going in for damage control. I apologized for her frustrating experience and then tried a new approach and asked her if she would mind providing the details of the problem once again so that I could look at it from another angle and perhaps see a different way to address it or solve it.

The scenario she described had the user printing out 1,000 pages for multiple accounts and specifically told me how frustrating it was for her users to have to print them out one page at a time. Why couldn’t they just select all the desired documents and click “print” one time? At this point I asked a question no one else did. I asked “why”. “Just out of curiosity, why are the users printing thousands of pages when the software’s purpose is to digitize the paper?” I found out that they are giving a state agency remote access to their system via the web so they wouldn’t have to come into their office do the work. After printing reams and reams of paper the agency was taking those printed pages and scanning them into a different system for additional processing. I had an “Aha moment” and said, “So your office is scanning these records into your system and then someone else is printing them and then scanning them into another system?” When she confirmed, I revised her problem statement from a printing problem to “I need to export documents from my system and import them into another system”. Guess what? We had a product that would do just that. This was an easy sell and this customer is still using the integration some 7 years later. If one of the 6 people who had tried to help her had just listened to understand rather than being so quick to respond, this would have been a slam dunk at the first call.

Good example, eh? I am sure you have some equally good examples. This week let’s focus on the needs of our customers and the first step is “listening to understand”.