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Talking about listening to customers

Listen Up + Level Up: How to Actually Hear What Customers Say

Valuable customer feedback paves the road to customer success. Learn how to harness the three levels of listening to support your customers – then act.

Once upon 1995, Lisa Loeb released a song that includes the lyric, “You say I only hear what I want to.” I am telling you this (not only because the song is stuck in my head) but because it might serve you to ask yourself if you are being selective about the customer feedback coming your way. When you peruse customer discussions in your online community, how do you react?

Are you only hearing what you want to, or do you know how to actually hear what your customers (both happy and dissatisfied) have to say? Tougher question: Are you even asking for customer feedback?

There is a clear distinction between simply hearing someone, and active, engaged listening (especially when you’re responding to discussions posts within your online customer community or interacting with folks at live events). Alas, it all starts with y o u, yes, you.

In this piece we’ll tap into the three levels of listening: internal listening, focused listening, and global listening.

Why? Because customers will get frustrated, annoyed, or feel like their time isn’t valued if your organization is distracted or tuning them out when they’re trying to communicate. When distracted listening happens in your community, it can make your members or customers feel like they don’t matter, when what you really want is for them to feel truly valued.

Listening to your members or customers and actually hearing what they say is critical. Not only will they feel validated and inspired to contribute more, but you’ll learn what makes them tick. This is invaluable – focused listening will help you cater to them and create better products.

The 3 Levels of Listening: Become a Better Listener + Leader

Odds are you think you’re a good listener (both in and out of the workplace). But the truth is, although we often take listening for granted, we’re not necessarily good at it. We’re too caught up in our own stresses, ideas, and thoughts to truly pay attention.

Luckily, there are proven ways to become a better listener. Many of these methods are derived from leadership and executive coaching tactics – which makes sense, since they listen professionally.

In a lot of ways, becoming a better listener involves breaking a bad habit letting your mind wander, making assumptions, biting your fingernails, so onand forming a new habit.

First, you need to define what the bad habit and good habit look like. In this case, what does bad listening look like and what does good listening look like? Next is to become aware of when the bad habit creeps into your listening and you need to switch.

The “levels of listening” is one coaching method that could help you break your bad habit and start a good habit. This method categorizes listening into three levels, starting with surface level and distracted to more focused and aware.

If you can tap into these distinctions on your own, your listening and understanding will improve within your community – making your customers feel supported and giving you more insight.

Level One: Internal Listening

Let’s be honest – in our day-to-day lives, we’re often at this level. Internal listening is self-directed. We hear what people say, but their words are often clouded by our own inner monologue, feelings, opinions, and judgments.

An example: when you tell someone a story and they cut you off saying, “Oh, something exactly like that happened to me” and proceed to tell you all about it. Or, perhaps worse, their eyes glaze over and they check their phone while you’re talking. (This kind of listening has its social place, like when you’re out with friends or making the rounds at a cocktail party.)

But if you read through discussions in your online customer community and post comments or engage when you are operating at this level, your judgment could be clouded and your responses might not align appropriately. You have to boost engagement with a clear mind.

If you see a question and immediately think, “That’s a dumb question, who would ask that?” you’re probably at this level of listening, letting judgment cloud understanding.

If that’s the case, you may appear off-putting to members because of bias or missing insights. If customer success is one of your initiatives (and it should be), this isn’t where you want to be.

PS: Don’t get it twisted. You should absolutely tap into personal experience to feed your discussion responses, when it is relevant and helpful but it’s important to do this from level two, when you are first focused on understanding the intentions behind your customer’s outreach.

Level Two: Focused Listening

If you want to truly hear what your customers or members have to say, this is the level you should be operating at when you communicate. Focused listening draws on intuition and concentrated interpretation to be effective.

On your journey to becoming a more effective listener, be cognizant of trying to achieve this level when doing activities such as:

  • Scrolling through discussion posts/polls in your online community
  • Interacting with customers in person at events
  • Engaging in a phone call, virtual meeting, etc.

If you typically feel distracted in those scenarios, you might be stuck in level one: internal listening.

To level up: Take a breather, close out extra and/or irrelevant tabs you have open on your web browser, put your phone in airplane mode out of sight, and set an intention to tame your inner monologue and focus when you are digesting customer feedback or content within your community. Shift to an external focus rather than associating everything with your own situation, and remember that all customer feedback gives you the opportunity to improve – so, don’t fret.

Pay attention to the ideas and intentions of the customers trying to communicate with you. Turn off your judgment – no question is a dumb question – and look at the discussions with an open mind. Do you have the opportunity to share knowledge? Can you offer any resources? You can maintain an acute awareness into customer needs by remembering you’re a consumer, too. If you were in your customer’s position, how would you hope someone would respond to you?

This focused level of listening is a powerful tool since you won’t always hear what you want or expect to hear – but you hear your customer’s truth, the meaning behind their engagement.

That deeper understanding will increase your community knowledge and understanding, allowing you to better assess and support customer needs.

For example, when beauty brand Glossier received some online criticism that the color range of their product line wasn’t adequately catering to the needs of women of color, they could have listened with a level one attitude and said, “Tough. We already offer so many beautiful shades – there isn’t a need. Why must people complain?” OR they could’ve done what they did: launch an expanded 12-shade range for its concealer and skin tint in question, along with an online shade finder tool.

The result? This startup achieved full-blown unicorn status.

Read Glossier’s Success Story | 3 Lessons from a Unicorn: How to Harness Customer Feedback to Drive Brand Growth & Success

Level Three: Global Listening

Global listening means tuning into the body language, mood, and energy of the person speaking. Global listening is the most active level because the listener is not only focused and in tune with what they are hearing, but the impact of the environment around them.

Since your community is virtual, this level can be tricky. You can’t exactly key into whether or not your customer speaking online is shifting, sweating, weirdly calm, or just normal. You can’t pick up on the usual cues one might deduce from one’s body language, breathing, or surroundings.

Rather than chalking global listening up to a loss, take into consideration the climate of your customer community as a whole, the context of the comment in the discussion at hand, etc. Is the comment in line with how that person normally acts, or do they seem harsher?

Communication is often about more than just words, so being aware of the larger context gives you better understanding of where your customers or members are coming from. In person at your customer conference or other events, tap into global listening by maintaining a keen awareness of your senses and environment as you communicate with your customers.

All Ears? Companies Who Listen & Act On Customer Feedback Thrive

Really, in all of this, it’s important to set aside your prejudices and preconceived notions. In the end, does it matter what you think of the conversation? An online community is useless to your organization if you only hear what you want to.

The only thing more useless? Truly hearing and digesting valuable customer feedback… then doing nothing about it.

You need to listen to what’s actually being said, even if you don’t like it. And then you need to address it in a timely, focused, respectful manner. A huge piece of listening to your customers is actually making changes, which isn’t always in the hands of the person fielding the feedback.

Don’t let valuable feedback fall on deaf ears, even if you’re not in the right department to address it. Escalate it to someone who can. Those realizations take some work, but will help you shape your organization and product into what your customers want, not what you think they want. If you do that, both you and your customers will be happier in the end.

Download the Engagement Trends Report 2020


Gabrielle Wathen

Gabrielle is the Content Marketing Manager at Flockjay. She has a background in journalism, film, and marketing. When she’s not writing, you can find her cuddling her cats Harvey and Wilbur, traveling the world, or storytelling in any way she can. Favorite food: All things cheese. Favorite place: Black Rock City, NV.