Listening as customer service

Last weeklistening I attended the 2016 Minnesota summit on preventing campus sexual violence. It was a difficult topic, but very energizing to be with 300 people from 57 different campuses who are engaged in this work.

One thing that I heard repeatedly was the importance of investigating complaints through well-informed listening. Paul Schnell, the Chief of Police for Maplewood, talked about false assumptions that can get in the way of an investigation. For example, some police officers believe that most reports of sexual assault are false, whereas research shows that the level of false reports is only around 5%. We learned about the neurological response to trauma that results in fragmented memories and non-linear stories. You can imagine the difference that assumption could make when listening to a survivor. Is the person doing as much as possible to describe a traumatic event? Or is she making things up as she goes along?

I was struck by the knowledge that just being well-intentioned isn’t enough. A good investigator understands the psychology of trauma and is knowledgeable about the proper techniques for interviewing survivors.

The same thing can be true in many of our leadership roles. Listening with good intentions is a start. But informing ourselves about our customer’s needs, background, and context is often essential. I’ve experienced that in my own life as a team member on a large project. The difference between talking to a sponsor who had read the report and had meaningful questions was striking when compared to another sponsor who tended to say versions of “nice job, keep up the good work.” While she might not describe it this way, my impression is that the first sponsor treated business interactions as a chance to provide service to the other person – to understand their needs, acknowledge key issues, and use her expertise to strategically address them.

When you experience well-informed listening, how does it make you feel? What lessons can you apply to customer service?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

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