Are You Getting What I'm Saying?

3 min read
30/04/23 11:33 AM

Listening to Customers


Understanding Customers

I’ve always had a strong interest in the human psyche, which over the years I’ve realised is a polite cover for me being a nosy person. I’ve always wanted to know why people act the way they do. 

I’ve also always been interested in my own reactions and what makes me tick. Especially when it comes to relationships. 

My Dad always told me “Emily, the most important thing in a relationship is for someone to love and respect you.” 

For years I've held onto those words, taking them in and out of every friendship and relationship I've encountered. But sometimes love and respect, as good as it felt, wasn’t enough. 

Sometimes after a disagreement or a fight, the kiss and make up part didn’t quite make things better. Sure, I was happy to have resolved an issue, but I would walk away feeling a bit... off?

For years I told myself that was normal; all I needed is a breather, a little bit of space and to hit the restart button. But sometimes the feeling wasn’t the same as before. To move on, I'd have to force myself to brush it under the carpet.

One day last year I was received the usual bombing of WhatsApp messages from a friend living in New York. Amongst the photo updates, hometown gossip and usual pandemic chat, she sent a podcast recommendation from the series Hidden Brain, by Shankar Vendantam. 

This particular episode, “What Makes Relationships Thrive” was right up my alley. (TMI but I’d just moved to Italy as a result of a whirlwind summer romance and I was happy to lap up any relationship advice I could get). 

Shankar Vendantam starts the episode by reminding us all of that special feeling when you meet a soul mate, or create a close bond with a favourite colleague, or even what it’s like to be inspired by a politician or business leader.

He then poses the question; what is it that prompts us to feel that deep connection with some people but not others?

He explains it simply; beneath the feeling of being close to someone there’s a powerful psychological mechanism.

And that is the feeling of being understood. 

Vendantam speaks with Psychologist Harry Reese from the University of Rochester, who carried out a study of this core ingredient behind successful relationships.

“Having understanding is the most important thing we want in our relationships,” Mr Reese explained. “One of the most powerful things we want is for there to be real understanding in those relationships, that people on the other side know who we are and are caring and validating and accepting of that person.”

That’s when the relationship equation made total sense; things like love, respect and trust simply don’t work if there isn’t understanding. 

If your understanding of me is different to how I understand myself; when you tell me you love me, I'm hearing that that you love somebody different to me.

And if you're appreciating me for something that I don’t think is the most important thing about myself, your feedback doesn't sound authentic.

Let’s apply that to customer service. Ok, I agree at first thought it feels weird to directly relate the above to a professional scenario, but Mr Reese goes on to explain how it’s not really any different.

For example, there’s research that shows medical care works better when patients feel like their doctors are listening and really understand what their symptoms and needs are. 

It’s common in the classroom too; students do better when they feel their teacher understands who they are and what their priorities are. 

From a customer support perspective, let's break down this scenario.

  1. Customer has a problem. 

  2. Customer Support says you’re a valued customer, I want to help you. 

  3. Customer explains. 

  4. Customer Support says they understand, but their understanding isn’t what Customer explained.

  5. Customer is left feeling misunderstood, undervalued and frustrated with experience. 

Think about how often we’re misunderstood in our day; whether you’ve tried explaining something to your boss and you’ve walked away feeling like your point wasn't made, or you’ve had an argument with your significant other and while you’re feeling really upset, they’ve sat there staring at you, confused.

When I think back to all the arguments or disagreements I’ve had in my life, the majority of them point to being misunderstood, or myself not understanding. And while I still hold my Dad’s words carefully to my chest about love and respect, being understood is something we collectively need as humans to function in all aspects of society.

So how can we be understanding? And how can this better your business’ customer service? 

What it comes down to is listening and asking the right questions to better understand your customer's problem. 

The last thing a customer wants is to be down the end of a phone line with a provider they’re paying good money for, and having to continuously explain what isn’t working for them. 

Keep asking questions until you understand. Have patience. And make sure you give a damn.

If you need a quick run-through on what effective language can sound like, check out our guide from Cradle Customer Support expert Caleb. 

Remember, we’re not robots. Be the best human you can be. 

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