We have 2 ears and 1 mouth, so it’s important to use them proportionally, especially when speaking to customers.
My father has a theory that the lord provided each of us with two ears and one mouth to remind us we should use them in proportion. It’s a simple and straightforward suggestion, but one that many of us struggle to apply.
In my experience, many fail at project management and sales because we do too much talking and not enough listening. The natural tendency of most people is to address a question or concern as quickly and directly as possible, even if it means cutting off the customer mid-sentence. What we too often fail to realize is that most customers don’t simply want a quick answer; rather, they want the correct answer.
I find it helpful to keep the following in mind when talking with clients:
- Resist the inclination to interrupt customers or complete their thoughts. Human nature is to check items off the to-do list or address concerns as quickly as possible. Even if you think you know the answer to what the customer is asking, it’s usually better to the let the customer finish what he or she is saying. The worst thing we can do is leave the customer with the impression that we are rude or know-it-alls.
- Knowledge is Power. We can only solve problems we know exist, and we can’t find out about problems by dominating a conversation. The best project managers and sales people use short, well-constructed probing questions to keep a conversation progressing. A very successful salesman once told me that his goal was to get the customer to “puke” out information. It’s amazing the amount of truly helpful information customers will share when you give them the opportunity.
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” One of the biggest mistakes I see project managers and sales people make is responding to customers with information they don’t know to be correct. Believe it or not, if you don’t know the answer to a customer’s question it’s OK to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.” So long as you follow up quickly with the information the customer is seeking, he or she will respect you more for answering honestly than providing false information.
- When you do answer, have confidence in what you say. Often times it’s not what we say, but rather how we say it. Most people trust answers they feel are spoken with confidence. Resist using phrases that suggest speculation such as “I think” or “probably”. If you know the answer to what the customer is asking, speak with confidence and conviction.
The subject of human relations is complex and challenging. People devote their entire lives to studying it, and hundreds if not thousands of books have been written on the topic. It’s important that we remember the end goal is the satisfaction of the customer. Keeping this goal in mind, as well as remembering to use your ears and mouth in proportion will only lead to positive results.