In the realm of small business, customers love to feel valued. As a small business owner, you can make your customers feel valued by practicing active listening techniques every time you need to get out on the floor and help with sales or customer service. You just might get some repeat business, a good review or word-of-mouth referrals from simply being a good listener.
The Importance of Active Listening
When we think about communication, we tend to think a lot about the specific words we choose and the tone of voice we use. But listening plays an important role in the communication process as well. If we don't listen attentively and put effort into the conversation, we impede the transfer of ideas. We also display body language that says, "I'm not interested in what you have to say," whether we mean to or not.
Active listening techniques will help you to focus and give the speaker the attention he or she deserves.
1. Make Eye Contact
This somewhat depends on the cultural norms of the area and those of the customers themselves. But throughout North America, making eye contact with the person who is speaking is a way of showing that they have your full attention.
This doesn't mean you have to stare into someone's eyes until it gets awkward. But do keep your head up and make eye contact for a few seconds while they speak and while you speak back. It's normal to let your gaze move around, but coming back to make eye contact says, "I'm still engaging in this conversation."
2. Show You're Following Along
Your eyes represent just one aspect of the overall body language you display as a listener. You can use your entire body to show that you're following along and listening. Nod your head when needed, furrow your eyebrows and frown a bit to show concern, smile when the speaker breaks into a smile, etc.
You can even soften your shoulders if the topic is personal and sensitive, or straighten your back and stick your chest out if the subject at hand requires some enthusiasm.
Of course, you don't need to do any of this in an over-dramatic way. But subtly adjusting your facial expressions and overall body language helps the speaker understand that you're engaged and taking a real interest in what they have to say. As a small business owner, showing interest in even everyday small talk makes customers feel special.
3. Do Not Multitask
Have you ever tried to say something important to someone who wouldn't give you the time of day? If someone is trying to talk to you in earnest, stop what you're doing and give them your full attention. Multitasking instead of actively listening says, "I am too busy for you, go away." Neither your employees nor your customers want to be on the receiving end of that vibe.
The point is to either have a conversation or not. If a conversation needs to happen, give it your full attention. If it doesn't, end or reschedule it firmly but politely.
4. Avoid Interrupting
Active listening means focusing on the other person and really trying to understand what they're saying. This can't happen if you're too worried about your own response or sharing your own news.
Sometimes interrupting someone is inevitable in a fast-paced exchange of information. But think about whether or not you're doing most of the talking or are constantly cutting off the other person. If you are, you need to take a moment to let them have a turn without interruption.
The importance of active listening for small business owners lies in the necessity of showing respect to customers and in understanding their needs. Everyday situations provide the perfect active listening exercises to allow you to practice these techniques until they become second nature.
Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.