Listening On a Deeper Level

April 14, 2003
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“To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation.”
Francois de La Rochefoucauld, 1665

Few people really “listen closely and reply well.” Sure, we hear what people say. But most of us don’t listen, understand and reply on a deeper level. When we appear not to listen, we give customers the impression that we don’t care about them. And if they think that, they will never become the advocates, or Cheerleaders, that we want them to be.

The way to fix this problem is obvious: listen. Yet many in our industry, especially the younger technicians, have never really learned how to show a listening attitude. You must teach your employees how to listen deeply, respond and, in the process, display an attitude of care and concern.

Part of listening well is to recognize the question. Customers frequently ask us questions such as, “How much will it cost?” and “How long will my carpet cleaning take?” But there are a number of other, unspoken questions lurking behind your customer’s verbal queries. Here are a few examples along with some possible “deeper level” replies:

“So, how long have you been doing this?”
Translation: “Do you have any idea what you are doing?” The best response to this question is to keep it from entering the customer’s mind in the first place. A professional appearance, immaculate equipment, a confident demeanor and of course beautiful cleaning results are “unspoken answers” that will immediately put the customer’s mind at ease and keep any doubts from rushing in.

If questions as to employee’s experience arise, the best tact is to meet them head on: “I’ve been with this company for six months now, Mrs. Jones. But they have a tremendous orientation and training program, and I’ve been getting some incredible results. Maybe because I’m new at this carpet cleaning is still exciting. Pretty strange, huh?” Nothing like sharing a laugh with a customer to help put them at ease.

“Is your company bonded?”
Translation: “Are your employees honest? Can I trust them and, for that matter, can I trust you?” This is a tough one; the horror stories floating around about carpet cleaners are legendary. Once again, the best defense against the unspoken “trust” question is a good offense.

Correct employee grooming, along with professionally lettered trucks, will provide the unspoken answer that you have a trustworthy company. Community involvement in charitable organizations, along with consistent company image promotion, gives the impression of an honest, safe and stable organization.

Here are two special tips on answering the trust question. First, teach your employees to look the customer in the eye. All too often, young technicians are intimidated in dealing with a customer who is usually older and almost certainly is wealthier than they are, so they tend not to meet the customer’s eye. The unspoken message this sends is, “I can’t be trusted.”

Another great, and very simple, idea is to prepare photo I.D. badges for all your employees, including yourself. This is a simple way to convey an image of trust and competence.

“Is your work guaranteed?”
Translation: “Am I going to have to use your guarantee? If I am unhappy, is it going to be a knock-down, biting and kicking fight to get you to honor your guarantee?” Once again, answer on a “deeper level”:

“Absolutely, Mrs. Jones. If you are not 100 percent delighted, we will promptly and cheerfully come back to re-service your home. Then, if you still aren’t happy, we’ll refund your money with a smile. But I have to tell you that less than one percent of our clients need us to re-do anything and, frankly, I can’t ever remember a customer wanting their money back.”

This reply is so much better than a simple, “Sure, we have a guarantee.” In one fell swoop you not only reply to the question, but also reassure the customer that her hidden concern isn’t going to be an issue.

“How long do I need to stay off of my carpets?”
Translation: “Are you going to soak my carpets, rot the fibers, mess up my home and just generally destroy my family routine?” Once again, reply on a deeper level.

“Depending on the weather and the amount of procedures required to get your home clean to our standards, Mrs. Jones, your carpets will be slightly damp for three to eight hours. However, we’ll replace your furniture exactly as we found it and protect the carpet with special plastic tabs. You can walk of the carpet immediately after cleaning without damaging the fibers. We just suggest not tracking in outside soil during the drying period.” Yes, you have given the homeowner a drying time. But you have also replied to her hidden concerns in a very comforting manner.

Hint: Many companies now give the homeowner one or two pairs of surgical booties to keep and wear during the drying period. “Mrs. Jones, we’ll also leave you some surgical booties to slip on while your carpets are drying. This will give an extra level of protection against any dirt being tracked in.”

Listening well is both an art and a science. While you may instinctively be a master at the art of conversation, chances are your employees are not. So you must focus them on the science of listening by giving them simple procedures to use in the customer’s home. In the next installment of “To Your Success,” we’ll review simple, non-verbal replies to the unspoken questions of your customers.

“Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice,” said Polonius in Act I, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Take that 400-year-old wisdom to heart; listen, really listen, on a deeper level and your appreciative customers will become the Cheerleaders that everyone else will listen to.

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