When I was about 4 years old, my mother made a surprising discovery.
I was in the living room, and I sat in front of the radio.
I was listening to the music, and I moved my hands to and from my ears.
I pushed my left hand to my left ear and took my hand off my ear again.
Then I pushed my right hand to my right ear and took my hand off my ear again.
I was not aware that my mother walked into the living room and saw me doing this.
She observed me for a second and then she asked me “What are you doing?”.
I turned around to her and said, “I’m playing with the sound of the music”.
“What do you mean?”, she asked me.
And I said “When I do this, I do hear the music. When I do this, I don’t.”
My mother was confused.
“What do you mean?”, she said.
I repeated what I had just said. “When I do this, I do hear the music. When I do this, I don’t.”
Listening can be difficult
That day my mother found out her youngest child was deaf in one ear.
She was devastated because my older sister was born with hearing issues too.
To me, it wasn’t new that I was deaf in one ear.
I thought every person could hear with either the right or left ear, just like we are either right or left-handed.
When I grew up, I found out how difficult listening is.
I always had to put serious effort into listening.
I learned that hearing is something we do automatically.
Listening is a conscious activity you must put a lot of effort into.
Later, I discovered the importance of listening when maintaining personal relationships with family and friends.
Or relationships between staff and employees, between teams and within teams, between brands and customers.
I found out many companies suffer from what I call ‘corporate deafness’.
They don’t listen to their customers.
The power of customer feedback
I have worked in customer marketing for over 30 years, and I got fascinated by the power of customer feedback and the often-overlooked potential of the voice of the customer.
Today, I am a global speaker on customer experience & listening leadership, also known as The Customer Listener.
I love to show my audience why listening is so difficult for many of us and how every organization, every team, and every professional can take listening to the next level.
I love to inspire and motivate professionals like you to listen to the voice of the customer to build extraordinary customer experiences and work towards long-term sustainable customer relationships.
I call it ‘listening leadership’.
When you are thinking of listening leaders, who pops up in your mind first?
When I think of the listening leaders I have known in my life, the first person I think of is my mother.
Let me explain.
My mother ran our family, day in day out, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
One of the things I remember from the time I was a young boy is when my father got home from work and we had dinner together.
My mother, my father, my sister and I.
During dinner, my mother demonstrated her tremendous listening skills.
She asked questions. She listened patiently. She looked at us.
She listened patiently to what my sister was saying about the projects she was working on at school.
My mother asked questions and she listened patiently. And she looked at my sister.
She listened patiently to what I was saying about the things that went well or bothered me at school.
My mother asked questions and she listened patiently. And she looked at me.
She listened patiently to what my father was saying about that big-big information project he was working on.
My mother asked questions and she listened patiently. And she looked at my father.
Why are you listening?
At the age of 14 or 15, when children tend to become a bit cynical, I started to wonder if my mother really understood what my father was talking about.
I’m pretty sure that most of the time she didn’t.
After my father had died, I told her this story and I asked her “Did you understand what dad was talking about?”
She said “No, most of the time I didn’t. But that was OK. Because that was not why I asked him those questions. That was not what I was interested in and listening for.
He was my husband, and I was his wife. I wasn’t interested in WHAT he was doing. I was interested in HOW he was doing.”
I thought ‘Wow! That’s it!’
It’s not always about what the other person is doing.
It’s about how the other person is doing.
It’s about finding out what their feelings are.
To find out how my dad was doing, my mother used her most powerful instruments: her ears and her eyes.
By listening, she wasn’t collecting information to get a deeper knowledge of the projects at my father’s workplace or my sister’s school, or my school.
By listening, she got to know what we were thinking, how we were feeling, and what we needed.
That was what the listening was all about for her.
By asking questions, listening to us, and watching us, she gathered the exact information she needed to be a good mother and successful leader.
At the same time, by listening to us, she gave us the most important thing she could give us: her full attention.
Later, I found out that companies that get the highest ratings from their customers are the ones that LISTEN to their employees and their customers.
These two appear to be closely related – happy employees make happy customers.
That’s why more and more companies conduct Voice of the Customer programs in which they continuously listen to what their customers think, feel, and need.
The power of listening
Why is listening so powerful? Let’s take a look at what the experts say about the power of listening.
In ‘The Science of Mother Love’, Cory Young says: “Scientific evidence shows that the way babies are cared for by their mothers will determine not only their emotional development but the biological development of the child’s brain and central nervous system as well.”
In his book ‘Love Your Patients’, Dr. Scott Louis Diering of the University of Michigan says: “Scientific research shows that, besides traditional medical care, it is really personal patient care (love, respect, and humility) that relates directly to patient satisfaction and patient behavior. Patients get better faster.”
In ‘Blink’, Malcolm Gladwell writes about research conducted by American insurance companies to investigate the connection between the doctor-patient relationship and the odds of a doctor being sued by a patient: “The likelihood of a doctor being sued by a patient is not tied to how many mistakes the doctor has made, but to whether the doctor’s patients feel cared for, listened to, and treated with respect. Basically, when it comes down to it, patients don’t sue doctors they like.”
“Are you listening?”
During my marriage, I was a useless listener.
It would be too easy to use my single-sided deafness as an excuse for his.
When my dear ex-wife was telling me something and she suddenly stopped talking, I knew she was going to ask me: “Are you listening?”
When I said “Yes”, she would say: “What did I say?”
At that moment I could instantly reproduce the last words she had said.
Word by word.
I had developed a sort of buffer, cache memory.
And it wasn’t until I reproduced that sentence myself that I actually heard what she had said.
After we divorced, I started learning how important listening is and how important it is to develop your listening skills.
By asking questions, by listening patiently, and by looking at the other person.
In conversations with our partners, our children, our neighbors, and our customers of course.
I learn every day, even though I know that I will never be as good a listener as my mother was.
A listening mindset
Listening leadership requires a listening mindset.
A listening mindset requires the ability to listen without judgment.
Cheryl Richardson once said, “people start to heal the moment they feel heard.”
With that healing power, all of us can create a listening environment in our families, businesses, politics, and all other types of communities.
We can help and teach others to care, to listen without judgment, and to forgive that look differently, think differently, and act differently.
We can invite others to speak up, express their thoughts and their feelings freely.
Encourage them to use their voices to make themselves heard.
And they will have our full attention.
Even if we hear a painful message, we will be able to forgive and be grateful that at least we know the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and needs.
I like to compare it to kissing a cactus.
You can choose to judge the cactus for its sharp spines and ignore it.
Or you can treat the cactus with attention and care, forgive it its spines, and listen to what it needs.
It needs light, water, and food. Not too much and not too little.
Because you know that if you ensure that the cactus stays healthy, with a bit of luck, it will bloom for you.
Frans Reichardt | The Customer Listener
Listen to this episode of KISSING A CACTUS, my podcast about listening to the voice of your customer to improve the customer experience.
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