On a whim, at some point last year, I decided it was time to “give back” to society. Call me a “middle-aged cliché” but there you have it, I was ready to do something selfless and that’s no bad thing. The question was, what? I’m not your average touchy-feely type and I’m more-or-less done with cooking after years of domestic bliss raising three kids. This meant that visiting old-age homes and volunteering my culinary skills at the local soup kitchen were both out. I was pretty much stumped.
Until one memorable day when a friend mentioned a “grief counseling” course she had recently completed. She thought it would be right up my alley (I didn’t agree) but you know what, something did spark my curiosity and before I knew it, I’d signed up for a two-year training course.
My reasoning went something like this… I like talking to people…I love dishing out advice … I’m great at fixing other peoples’ problems…. I’ll be a fabulous counselor! Or so I thought.
How wrong I was, but more on that later..
Training to be a bereavement counselor is a humbling experience. The course involves hours of role-play, sitting in front of a room full of other soon-to-be-counselors pretending to be either the counselor or the client. When it’s your turn to be the counselor you can’t interrupt. You can’t stop the client mid-stream to spout your opinions. You can’t say “yeah that happened to me!” You can’t say a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g. You just listen. And feed back every now and then, to check you understood correctly.
For someone who likes talking (a lot) it was a revelation, to say the least. In a nutshell, here’s the message I humbly swallowed. People don’t actually want to hear you talk. They don’t want your advice and they don’t need to be told what to do. None of those things will make a bereaved person feel better. They will eventually find a way out of their dark hole but not because you told them the way. No, it’s something a lot more powerful and basic than that. They find a way out because you took the time to listen. You gave them space to process their feelings and by doing so, you opened a door to healing. By simply listening, ever so deeply, to your client you give them a gift that no amount of talking can ever achieve.
Listening sounds kind of easy, but it’s not. It was while trying to master this tricky and somewhat elusive art that it hit me, LISTENING is a superpower!
Done correctly, listening will make you a better parent, spouse, human being and, of course, a better marketer. One who is equipped to serve a community of customers like no other. Truly, every copywriter, marketer and person who is selling services (or objects) to people, needs to hear this!
As marketers and business owners, we have become so used to talking (and selling) that we often forget to stop and listen. We need to remember that it’s not about us. It’s not about how many awards we have, how cool our product is, how many times we’ve been published in Forbes and how much money we’re making. It’s about our customers.
To best serve our customers, we have to hear them. Know them. Learn what keeps them up at night. Learn their deepest fears and biggest pain points. Learn what they need most and commit to give it to them. That’s when businesses truly start to soar. And to know people, you have to be able to listen.
You could say I got more than I bargained for when I started the course. Grief counseling training isn’t just helping me become a more helpful and compassionate person (I hope), it’s also helping me serve my clients better. Your customers aren’t so different from my counseling clients. Because (big revelation coming) – your customers are human – and deep-down, people just want to be heard.
If you’re in the business of selling a product or service you may not think of yourself as being particularly altruistic but that’s a mistake. As a business owner, your whole raison d’être is to serve your customers. Or as writer, Thai Nguyen put it, “business is all about meeting human needs”. If you don’t take the time to hear and understand your customers’ needs, you won’t be able to serve them. Any effort you devote to trying to understand your customer’s life, struggles and desires – through their eyes, not yours – is one of the most powerful things you can do to boost your business.
Here’s how you can better listen to your customers:
• Ask Questions – Listen more, speak less. It’s as simple as that. You are probably dying to tell your customers how amazing your products and services are, but hold back. Before you dive in with “the sell”, take the time to talk to your customers and find out what they actually need and want. You might think your products or services are the best thing on earth but if there is no audience for them, your business won’t thrive. Find out about the people you are selling to first, then design your product around their needs and you will be a winner. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Work out how you can address your customers’ most pressing concerns. Can you improve your offerings to better suit them? Ask until you are blue in the face. Ask at every opportunity you have, on every platform you have access to. You might think it’s overkill but trust me, this is what distinguishes businesses that are rocking it (Amazon, to name but one) from those that are struggling to get off the ground.
• Read what your customers read – If you’re selling educational products to mums of preschool kids, get out there and read “Parenthood 101” magazine. Then go buy “Happy Homeschoolers” and anything else your target mum might be reading. Read every book about educating preschoolers you can lay your hands on. Get into preschool mum’s world. Learn her language, her vocabulary and then craft your message and your offerings around who she is and what she spends the most time thinking about. The more you get into the mindset of your ideal customers and the more you “speak their language”, the more they will want to be around you (and give you their business).
• Hover around on social platforms – There are no barriers these days – you could be living in Timbuktu and operating a thriving business in Budapest. With the connectivity afforded by the internet, there is no excuse for not connecting with your customers, wherever in the world they may be. Facebook groups and other online forums are some of the most powerful ways to meet and greet (and listen to) your customers and future customers, without even moving from your armchair. Mingle on forums, see what your audience is talking about and use online social networks to help you deeply understand what keeps them up at night and what makes them tick.
• Get out there and meet people – The internet is truly the great connector but nothing beats face-to-face contact. Yes, you can achieve a lot on phone and email these days, but if you can go out and meet your customers, even once, this will boost your business enormously. When we limit our communications to cyberspace only, we miss those non-verbal cues so rich with meaning – a raised eyebrow, a sly smile, a scratch behind the ear – seemingly small actions that reveal so much more about the people we are conversing with. Sherry Turkle, MIT sociologist and author of Reclaiming Conversation, says that electronic devices are killing the art of conversation: “Because conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do. It’s where empathy is born, where intimacy is born—because of eye contact, because we can hear the tones of another person’s voice, sense their body movements, sense their presence. It’s where we learn about other people.” Listening is about more than just paying attention to the words themselves, it is also about noticing how those words are being spoken and how voice and body language can change their meaning. By all means, use the internet to get ahead, but don’t ignore the goldmine of added value that real-life meetings can give you.
Of course, like all of us, you want your business to succeed and you want to sell as much as you can, but never forget who you are and who your customers are. Training to be a grief counselor reminded me that customers are primarily human beings and as humans, we all have that same basic need to be heard. Listening to your customers affords them a degree of honor and respect. It builds trust and empathy and makes them like you more. At the same time, when you stop listening only because you are waiting for your next opportunity to speak and you start truly listening, you get to know the people you want to serve (and will be a much more effective seller when the time comes to sell).
Take Amazon and its vision of becoming “earth’s most customer-centric company.” Before every decision Amazon makes they ask themselves “is this good for the customer.” Watch and learn because that’s the smart way to do business – put the customer first, always!
Your business is only as good as the message you put out because if you are sending out the wrong message, you won’t ever reach the right people. Think about the message you are broadcasting and make sure it’s the one you want. Are you showing your customers that you care about them or are you inadvertently giving them the message that what you really care about is your own bank balance?
At Purple Chia, we are constantly striving to be better listeners. Before we write anything, we listen and we learn. We ask who you are and what you hope to achieve. Who are your customers and what do they desire? Who are you competing with? This helps us create the most impactful messages. We never stop learning and perfecting our craft so we can serve our customers better. Drop us a line and tell us what you need.