5 Ways to More Actively Listen to Customers


In this digital age, virtual teams and remote engagement are the new norm. Signals are that businesses are considering putting much more emphasis on remote engagement moving forward. Companies who saw success with virtual teams and virtual engagement are planning to continue with virtual teams once shelter-in-place rules lift, so it’s important to optimize remote ways of working.

How effective you are in virtual meetings will impact your relationships. It is critical to put the human element of how you work first, whether you are face-to-face in the same room or across the digital divide. Here are 5 ways to practice more effective listening skills whether you’re meeting with customers, partners, or teammates, especially during virtual meet-ups.

Manage chat time by leading with listening.  

Sure, it’d be nice if we all had 5-10 minutes before any scheduled meeting to arrive early, catch up and connect. But who’s got the time? Instead, devote the first couple of minutes of meetings to checking in with those present about how they’re doing, personally—and really listen—this is their time to share, not yours. Hear whatever they’re sharing with empathy, learn through conversation, and acknowledge verbally what they have just brought to the table.

Watch your speaking to listening ratio. Are we shooting for 50/50?  Not by a long shot. Aim for 80% listening and 20% speaking. After transitioning gracefully into the reason for the call, wrap back to any concerns or details they may have mentioned at the start before ending. Your customer will feel witnessed, heard, and understood; and you’ll both know each other a little better.

Listen first… then think before speaking. 

Ever felt like someone you’re meeting with is steering the conversation in some pre-ordained fashion, regardless of who’s there?  Not a good feeling. The key to building rapport with your customers is (and has always been) actively listening. When busy thinking about what you want to present next or even how to best respond, you’re NOT doing your job well. Always listen first, internalize what they’ve said, and only then choose where to steer the conversation.

According to SB Skills Solutions, a good way to practice is to set a goal of being able to repeat the last sentence the other person has just said. When you can, your attention is being focused on each statement as it appears. The person talking will key into that energy being given to them and they’ll feel heard. Ensure they also feel understood by letting whatever they shared with you inform the next conversational topic, rather than switching directly to the next item on some pre-arranged agenda.

Remove distractions till after the meeting.

OK, this might seem elementary but it’s imperative that BEFORE you join any online meeting, you silence your tech and move away from distractions. This way, you can pay full attention to the people in your meeting and what they’re saying. When you’ve taken the effort to close windows, shut down your Slack, silence iMessages and pause email notifications for the time being, you’re more present to the conversation at hand. Everybody’s got multiple things going at once. Show those in your meeting that you respect that fact by focusing on what’s happening now, so everyone can get back on-task sooner than later.

Keep things visual.  It’s not a conference call. 

By showing up on screen as more than just a voice and a name, participants in virtual meetings can more easily connect as people. Seeing facial expressions and body language, our digital selves become more humanized. When you choose video “on” as the default setting for meetings you host, everyone’s on camera and can read each other’s body language and see if someone is multi-tasking. Some people aren’t as comfortable as others in front of the lens. If that’s you, practice until it gets easier. Focus on the people you are in conversation with vs. how you look. You’ll witness firsthand the added value video brings to interactions. People will appreciate the attention you show them and will know you are listening.

Don’t fear humor. It’s essential to humanity. 

Leaders who encourage teams to laugh at mistakes and find positive energy in their struggles build trust while keeping productivity and morale high. Don’t be afraid to inject humor. When meetings are enjoyable, people are more engaged. Because they are paying more attention, they’re more productive.

You need not be a comedian and tell jokes. Collaborative humor happens through questions. “It’s social, spontaneous and organic,” according to Forbes. “When you want to give someone the gift of creating humor, ask creative questions that encourage divergent and humorous thinking.”  Research shows collaborative humor increases trust between leaders and their staff.

In summary, whether you’re meeting with customers, partners, or employees, digital virtual meetings are a mainstay. When we learn to embrace them and show up as our fully human selves, communication and relationships improve, regardless of location. And better relationships always bring better successes.

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