I had probably one of the most fierce debates with a sales director at an event yesterday. It didn't mean to turn into one but he made it very clear that he was going to be the one who was right. Everyone around him knew it.
It started with a simple conversation about what customers say. Phrases like
- "Send me more information"
- "I already have that covered"
- "I don't have the time right now"
- "Call me back another time"
He was convinced that everything a customer says is a lie. Now I strongly disagree with that statement for a whole host of reasons but understand where he is coming from.
I want to address this very interesting topic of things our customers say vs what we hear. If you've been in any sales or customer facing role for any length of time you'll have an attuned ear to customer phrases like the ones mentioned above. Once you hear phrases like this you may know what to say in response or simply concede and come back to fight another day.
The danger with our experience as customer facing professionals is we don't always approach every conversation with a new lens or filter for hearing what our customers are actually saying.
I have my own assumptions but I decided to do a little research and there were some fascinating discoveries. In a world where its difficult to cut through the noise our attention and focus is a critical skill to hone. Particularly when in communication with our customers.
The filters we use to hear and interpret the world are filled with Bias. Confirmation bias is one such explanation. It involves favoring information that confirms previously existing beliefs or biases. An example is if you've experienced customers who have said 'call me back' and then not answered your calls for 3 months. When the next customer says that same phrase you might immediately hear it and treat them differently despite it being a different person, different circumstance and context. This obviously has huge implications for how we should consider our own thoughts and what perspective our customers might have when they here 'sales phrases'. This was evident with the director I mentioned earlier.
I can't possibly go over all I've discovered and I'd encourage you to read further on the topic. Josh Kaufmans 'the personal MBA has a great section on this and its application to business' also you might want to check out an easy to read article from Psychology.
What can we do about this?
Here are three things you could do to best prepare against cognitive bias in your customer conversations.
- Mind your thoughts - Take literally 90 sec and be aware of your thoughts and how you feel. If needed grab a drink, take a walk or watch something funny. The state you go into a conversation has a huge impact on the results you could get from that conversation and how well you'll actually pay attention.
- Prepare in advance to listen objectively - Note down what you want to get from the call but also what impact you want to leave on your customer.When you prepare to focus intently on others its more likely to happen.
- Always clarify even when the statement or answer seems obvious - Restating not only helps you understand what your customer has said better but shows them you care enough to ask. You never know what you've heard and interpreted until you repeat it back. You can then end the call or meeting confidently knowing you have their words and interests met.
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