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Active Listening in Customer Interviews

A few years ago, I was interviewing a customer to uncover some problems our product was having. I was super green when it came to interviews at that time. My customer was chatting about their experience when my mind wandered down the rabbit hole because of something interesting they mentioned. By the time I snapped back to reality, I had solved the problem and was ready to move on to the next thing. My customer was intensely staring at me and waiting for my next question. I mumbled a quick apology as my face turned red. Awkward.

The key to getting the answers and insights you need from your customers is active listening.

Active listening is a skill you can learn.

After that awkward customer interview, I’ve been doing customer interviews very differently. Over the years, I’ve learned some helpful tips and tricks along the way, and now I’m teaching others in the company how to do user interviews to get the insights needed to be successful.

The most crucial skill in customer interviews is active listening.

I’ve seen so many capable professionals chatting with customers and not paying attention to what they said. If you aren’t listening to your customer, they will know. Once they find out you are not paying attention, your interview will not be as productive and could end early.

What is active listening?

Active listening is a soft skill that focuses all your attention on your customer when they talk. It gets you outside your head and focuses on what the customer needs.

Active listening shows your customer:

  • You are interested in what they are saying.
  • You’re humble and hungry to learn from them.
  • Their time and information are valuable to you.

What are the positive benefits and importance of active listening?

  • It builds empathy for your customers.
  • It helps you see your product from a different perspective.
  • It builds trust with your customer.
  • It helps you uncover insights

Be an Expert at Active Listening

Here’s what you do when you’re interviewing a customer and how you can apply your skill of active listening during an interview.

Be open and friendly upfront.

Help the customer feel at ease by warmly introducing yourself and anyone else in the room during the interview. Show the customer you’re there to help and learn from them.

Relax your posture.

Sitting rigid in your chair reflects nervousness on your part, causing the customer to feel nervous. Sit casually in your chair, lean back, and put your hands on the table. You can also lean forward to show your customer you are paying attention.

Smile and nod your head.

Pay attention to what your customer is saying and smile and nod when appropriate. If active listening is absent, there is the risk of smiling and nodding during sensitive information, creating an awkward moment between you and your customer.

Maintain eye contact always.

Look your customer straight in the eyes, even when they look away. Keeping eye contact lets your customer know you care about what they say to you.

Mirror the customer’s facial expressions.

Reflect the facial expressions of the customer. Doing this displays that you are paying attention to what they are saying while building empathy. The customer may even feel more comfortable and willing to discuss more during the interview.

Pay attention customer’s body language.

When listening to your customer, be aware of what is not being said by watching their body language for conflicting messages. Sometimes, the customer may say something positive, but their body language may display rigidness instead.

Never interrupt your customer.

It may be tempting to interrupt your customer when they talk about something interesting. Do not stop their chatting until the sentence is complete.

Be okay with the uncomfortable silence.

It is okay to allow silence between when you ask the customer a question and when they answer. The customer needs space to think. While it may feel awkward waiting, the customer may not perceive it the same way you do.

Do not get distracted.

When interviewing, try your best not to fidget, look at your phone/watch, or anything else that may distract your customer. Maintain eye contact and show that you care about what they tell you.

Summarize back to your customer what you heard.

Every person interprets something differently from the stories we tell ourselves. Be sure to repeat back a summary of what you perceived from your customer and get affirmation before continuing to the next question. Doing this shows you were paying attention to what they were saying.

Conclusion

Active listening is undoubtedly a soft skill for successful customer interviews to build empathy with your customers. It is also necessary for other situations such as coaching, leadership, counseling, and even conversations with friends and family.

Active listening can be taught and refined over time. The way to improve this soft skill is to practice as much as possible. Catch yourself from interjecting something about yourself and focus on the other person talking. It is difficult not talking about ourselves and focus entirely on someone else for a while.

So, next time you’re chatting with one of your customers, listen to what they are saying. I promise you will learn something new while building empathy for their experience.

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