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  Management Feature

Listening to Customers Makes You More Money

Posted 4/4/2007
By Patrick J. Donadio, MBA, CSP, MCC

If you want to make your shop more profitable, turn your ear toward your customers.

How do you define quality service for your customer? If you have already begun to answer this question, then you have fallen into a common trap. I believe that we don't define quality customer service, the customer does.

It is my belief that quality is whatever the customer says it is. The customer may want it fast, they may want the best price, and/or they may want the best product regardless of price. Only the customer can truly define what quality means for them.

To define quality, you must first listen to your customers. Your customers will tell you what they want if you ask and listen.

An old Turkish proverb says, "If speaking is silver, then listening is gold."

Listening is gold when it comes to business. To better serve customers, deliver quality service and make more money, we need to be better listeners.

  • Get mentally prepared

Your mental state has a big influence on your listening ability. According to Dr. Eric Berne, there are three modes of behavior, which are referred to as transactional analysis (TA). They are child mode, parent mode and adult mode. The mode you are in influences how you see the world and thus affects what you hear.

When you're in child mode, anger and despair dominate reason. When you're in parent mode, you can be controlling and judgmental (much like a parent). If others are not doing it the right way, you will respond by telling them so. The best mode to be in is the adult mode. In the adult mode, you focus on the facts, the situation or the behavior and not the person. You are neutral and open, listening to the customer without the biases of the other two modes.

Remember that people form an impression of you in seven seconds. So getting mentally ready also means checking your body posture and remembering to smile (if on the phone, smile with your voice). If possible, grab a pen and paper and be ready to take brief, but specific notes. Your mental state of mind will affect your listening, so be sure to get in the "adult state of mind."

  • "Seek first to understand, then to be understood"

"Seek first to understand, then to be understood" is one of the seven principles from Dr. Stephen Covey's book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." First, ask questions and then shut up and listen. Don't prejudge the issue or blurt out answers or solutions. Remember quality is whatever the customer says it is. Listen for needs, wants, desires and challenges. All of these answers will provide clues to better servicing the customer and helping them to buy from you.

  • Check for understanding

Even if you think you know what your customers said, you still want to "check for understanding." Some studies show that as much as 70 percent to 90 percent of a message is screened by the receiver. Don't assume you know what they said. Check it out. Ask questions for clarification, check for accuracy or ask them to repeat the information again. If they inform you that you don't have it correctly, then let them tell you what they meant. Never assume anything. Again, the key is to identifying customers' needs and wants. This happens by actively listening.

  • Listening is gold

The following techniques will help you actively get involved in the listening process and make you more gold. These tips are not in any specific order. As you read the list, focus on any ideas you tend not to use on a regular basis and put them into practice.

  • Get ready mentally - Clear your mind of any preconceived idea that could taint your understanding of the speaker's message. Temporarily let go of your need to be right and any prejudices you may have.
  • Come prepared - Develop a list of questions you want to ask. This gets you in the asking/listening mode.
  • Encourage the listener - Your body language can be an encouraging or discouraging factor when getting others to talk. Demonstrate your interest by leaning forward slightly, making eye contact, giving encouraging vocal cues ("Hmm," "Interesting," "Really") and being physically attentive, not doodling.
  • Listen with your eyes - Some studies show that more than 80 percent of the message can be nonverbal. Don't just focus on the words - engage your whole self into the process. Make eye contact with the person and pay attention to nonverbal cues.
  • Watch nonverbals - Look for eye contact, change in voice, facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, gestures and so forth.
  • Internal summary - Concentrate on what is being said and try to summarize the main points in your mind.
  • Take notes - When appropriate, take notes. This is an active way to stay engaged in a conversation. However, take brief, key-word notes.
  • Restate - For clarification, repeat what the person just said using their words. For example, "Let me repeat this to make sure I understand."
  • Paraphrase - This technique is where you restate what the speaker said in your own words to see if you understand the message. "So let me see if I understand, you would like me to ..." or "So it sounds like you want ..." Then wait for the other person to confirm or clarify your paraphrase.
  • Minimize interruptions - Don't try to take phone calls, read or complete another task while someone is talking to you.
  • Don't interrupt - Let others finish what they're saying.
  • Allow for silence - Pauses may seem uncomfortable, but don't automatically interject your comments. People may need a little time to gather their thoughts. Silence shows strength.
  • Think before responding - Suspend judgment; think about what they said before responding.
  • Ask questions - First, ask questions to clarify what the speaker is saying. Next, ask questions to encourage people to tell you more or force them to think through an idea. You can do this by asking open-ended questions. Examples: "Tell me more about that." "What do you mean by that?"
  • Avoid prejudging - Get all the facts before you draw your conclusion. Don't assume you know what the other person is talking about until you've heard the whole message.
  • Avoid tuning out - Be careful not to tune out because you may disagree with what the person is saying. Remember that your job is to listen and understand, not necessarily agree.
  • Next time you are talking with a customer or a prospect, try using these techniques. Who knows? You might be able to save time, make more money or even increase the quality of your service with these easy concepts.

    I like to close this article about listening with a quote from one of my favorite motivational speakers, Zig Ziglar. He said: "People don't care how much you know until you show how much you care."

    By being a good listener, you will not only make more money now, it will help you build better relationships to increase your revenues in the long run.

    Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. AMI instructors will be sharing their knowledge throughout the year on a variety of topics including customer service, advertising, sales excellence, managing change and other applicable topics. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit

    Patrick J. Donadio, MBA, is a Certified Speaking Professional and Master Certified Coach, specializing in business communications and leadership development. Donadio helps leaders and their organizations increase profits, boost performance, improve verbal communications and build better relationships in less time. You can reach him at (614) 488-9164; e-mail: or visit

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