How effective are your client listening habits?

One of my all-time favourite books is ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’ by Dr Stephen R. Covey. It’s one of the few books I regularly return to and I’ve applied what I’ve learnt from it in both my professional and personal life.

In the book, Covey talks about seven principles which, if adopted, make for more effective leadership and ensure integrity, empathy and a willingness to change – all of which are key ingredients for a successful client listening programme.

So, what are these ‘seven habits’ and how do they apply to client listening? Let’s take a look:

Habit one – Be proactive

Two key points here. Firstly, we all have a choice about how we respond (rather than merely react) to things – i.e. we all have ‘response-ability’. In client listening terms, this means taking whatever feedback comes your way, sitting with it, directly addressing it and learning from it, even if it might make you feel uncomfortable at first.

This habit also takes in Covey’s ideas around something he calls ‘the circle of influence’ and ‘the circle of concern’. In short, proactive people spend more energy on things within their circle of influence, thus increasing their influence, while people who are reactive choose to expend energy on things outside their control that concern them, meaning they reduce their influence. This is important in the client listening space because it plays into the idea that you absolutely have the power to influence how you treat your clients. It’s why you often find that the most influential individuals in any business have the most loyal clients.

Habit two – Begin with the end in mind

This habit asks you to always keep your end goal in mind, rather than getting caught up in being busy. Focus instead on being effective, homing in on those activities which lead you to achieve your ultimate goal.

In client listening projects, before jumping into going through the sort of questions we’ll be asking your clients, I ask you to think about your ultimate goal. What do you really want to know from your clients? What will help drive change and improvement across your business?

Habit three – Put first things first

Putting ‘first things first’ is all about effective self-management, focusing on activities that are important to us (and therefore help achieve the end goal of habit two) rather than activities which are urgent (i.e. important to someone else). Of course, you’re going to have to deal with some urgent issues, but you shouldn’t allow your time to become completely dictated by attending to them.

Client listening is important because it pays to be proactive about finding out how your clients are feeling so you can develop strong relationships with them. It’s rarely an urgent activity. In fact, the only time it becomes urgent is when it’s too late and a client has already left you and you have no idea why!

Habit four – Think win/win

Win/win is a mutually beneficent outcome, where you achieve something without the other party feeling disgruntled or hard done by. In client listening projects, it’s all about making sure you ‘close the loop’. After all, you’re asking your clients to give up their time to speak with me – why should they, if you’re not going to act on their feedback? Thinking about creating that ‘win’ for the client could involve resolving an issue, improving an experience or making a thoughtful introduction based on an insight they’d shared.

Habit five – Seek first to understand, then be understood

Habit five is fundamental to client listening. Most people listen to reply. They’ve already decided what they’re going to say before the other person has finished speaking! Empathetic listening is listening with the intent to really understand the other person’s viewpoint and feelings, without bringing your own bias or narrative into the conversation. Independent client listening allows your clients a ‘safe’ space to share their views and talk about what’s ahead for them without fear of someone trying to resolve the issue there and then, or worse, sell to them.

Habit six – Synergize

The sixth habit brings together the previous five and talks about working in ‘creative co-operation’ with others. Synergy means ‘the sum is greater than the parts’ and that great things can be achieved by working together and putting the other five habits into practice. Embracing client listening often requires a cultural shift – being open and willing to listen, and to act on whatever insight comes back, takes courage, leadership and collaboration.

Habit seven – Sharpen the saw

Sharpening the saw considers the importance of looking after yourself. It’s similar to the idea of not being able to pour from an empty cup. Although client listening is a business tool, in service businesses, it’s your people who are delivering for your clients. Are you looking after your teams? Are you making sure they’re not burnt out? The clients I interview put a lot of emphasis on how the businesses they work with treat their people. They don’t want to be working with stressed-out individuals who are under pressure from above. Make sure your people have the time and space to keep their ‘saws sharp’ – that their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing is being looked after.

Whether you’ve read ‘The seven habits’ or are coming to it for the first time, I hope this abridged taster of it has been useful – not just in your client listening activity but also for thinking about how relevant it may be in other areas of your life!

To find out more about Covey’s ‘The seven habits’, visit the Franklin Covey website here.

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