Listen first. Communicate second then Listen.

The importance of listening like the use of jargon is something that has been going through my mind in the last few months.  Listening I believe for some comes naturally and for others is something that they have to learn to do.  But listening in any walk of life is an essential skill which can make or break relationships or businesses and should never be neglected.

I fall into the category of having to work at listening.  I love communication which is why perhaps Marketing is a passion of mine as it is about communication though I will argue in this blog needs listening first, communication and then listening again.  Marketing might be the meat of the sandwich as it were but it needs the all important two slices of bread to make it that sandwich.

So from an early age I have loved to communicate and be heard!  Mum said that my favourite part of the day at nursery or school was the news item and I always had a piece of news and took it very badly if I couldn’t be the first with my news.  Equally mum knew that when I came home from school I needed to let her know all about my day before listening to her news.  As an adult I am acutely aware that though my communication skills are one of my key strengths they can also become a weakness if I don’t also listen and I try hard to do so.  Though I confess there are many times when I review my day and realise that yet again I have interrupted someone in my excitement to be heard and I want to kick myself and often have to have the mantra in my head.  “Listen Fiona listen.”

Because it is by listening you find out how people are really feeling, what they really want and it’s listening that can make them feel valued.  This is true in relationships, any relationships.  But it is equally true in business and listening should be at the heart of any organisation and of any marketing or communication.

As I said I am aware that listening is a skill that I have to work at so I tend to be aware when I see others or other organisations not listening as it always brings home to me the importance of listening.  The two examples that I have noticed recently who have not listened to some of their customers show lessons why it is important to listen.

The first is a large Scottish Organisation and two examples showed me that they were not listening to an important customer base of their business.  Like many organisations this business organises events.  It had run an event in various venues across Scotland and was running one in a rural area as part of the series.  Marketing wise it did all the right things.  The event was publicised via enewsletters to its database and also sent out to other business organisations.  The event was promoted on its website and there were also adverts in the local paper and radio station.  The event unfortunately had a turn out in single figures.  The response from the organisation?  They blamed that particular area for the low turnout and came to the conclusion that it showed that rural area had no interest in attending business events.  When in fact another business organisation the next day had a turn out of 70 plus.  So it wasn’t that necessarily but by blaming the businesses who hadn’t turned up they were not able to learn anything from this.  And the fact that they had held a similar event on the same topic  six months before and another similar organisation was also covering the same topic that month might have given a clue why the turn out was so low.  What the organisation could have done was go back to businesses and found out what were the business issues in the area and what would have got them to turn out to an event.  A lost opportunity.  The same organisation in a different rural location had a better turn out.  But here again they showed a weakness in listening.  At the event some of the businesses picked up the wrong end of a piece of communication.  When this was fed back to the organisation did they look at that and learn a lesson on how they were communicating?  No yet again they blamed the businesses for getting it wrong.  Two huge opportunities to learn how business feels and learn lessons to improve communication lost!

The second organisation is a UK wide membership organisation which I was till December a member of.  Like many businesses across the country Bright Light Marketing is looking at every business cost carefully.  We are members of various organisations and have clear reasons for each what we want to get out of them and we measure this really carefully as every penny counts.  In this case we were not getting what we wanted from our membership and we had decided to cancel .  It took a few weeks but just before Christmas the organisation concerned emailed me to pay up my membership.  I sent them an email outlining the reasons why I was not going to re – join.  Did they respond making me feel that they cared?  No they did not.  No response at all.  So out of frustration post-Christmas I made a comment on Twitter about it just testing the water to see if they might listen on that medium.  I am pleased to say I did get an email from someone in the organisation who said they were not in the membership section but would get someone to respond.  I was impressed and then made this public on twitter! I have to say I am impressed by this but this was not the end of the story.  That same day I did get a response to my email but it just sealed the nail in the coffin as far as that organisation is concerned.  It was a sermon worthy of the Rev “I M Jolly” on how I was wrong and they were right justification from their ivory tower!  I hadn’t thought I was 100% right just trying to explain my reasons why I wasn’t renewing as a courtesy to them as they may find others feel the same.  How have they made me feel by their lack of listening skills?  Well quite frankly that they don’t care about me and that my opinion doesn’t count!  And shall I tell lots of others about this well I am telling you now and believe me the story has been told face to face to many times over the past week!  As you tell one or two people when you get good service but at least double that if you have a complaint.

These two examples have been really useful for me in learning yet again the importance of listening and also why the sandwich of Listen, Communicate and Listen again is so important.  Running a small business we are acutely aware of the value of our customers and we do strive hard to listen as if we don’t have customers we don’t have a business.  The lessons have also been useful in my role as president of the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce.  It is also a membership organisation and has a board run by volunteers like myself who want to see the business community in the Borders thrive.  Like many organisations today finance is tight and every single member counts.  Do we always get things right?  No we don’t and there are many areas of the work that we do that we can improve upon.  So I intend at the next board meeting to discuss these two examples and see what the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce can learn from them.  Lessons that spring to mind are:

1. If an event is not succesful don’t blame the non attendees.  Check your communication of the event. Could you have communicated more?  Was the topic relevant?  Did you need to run the event? Were there other ways you could have got your message across?

2. If your communication results in mis – communication find out why this was the case.  Ask the business concerned and find out how you can improve the message.

3. Answer emails – not just the ones that say good things about your organisation but all emails and answer them within 24 hours if you can.  That makes people feel that you care.  If people feed back bad news it means that they care. You can still turn them around if you listen and respond!  An ex boss was an exemplar of this.  He always took the time to listen and meet those who disagreed and often invited them to get involved with the organisation and nine times out of ten it worked.  Two things happened.  One we saw their point of view and two often they became advocates of the organisation.  All because he took the time to listen to another point of view.

4. Social Media is king!  There are many people who are cynical about social media and that is their call.  But there are millions using social media. It gives them a voice to let others know what they think!  And that includes letting others know when a business lets them down.  Do you know what people are saying about your organisation on Social Media?  You can’t respond and learn unless you do.

So in conclusion from this I am going to create an agenda item on the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce January meeting.  I am also going to make sure that we listen if an event we hold doesn’t work or if a member leaves and make sure that we as a board discuss this at each and every board meeting.  I am also going to remind myself each day that I need to look at my business like a sandwich and Listen, Communicate and Listen again!

Finally I want to say a big congratulations and admit a huge amount of bias here to someone who was born with listening skills – my husband.  He is a natural listener which is maybe why we work as a couple!  But he also uses these skills in his work life as many of his clients have and would testify.  It is his listening skills which always get him to the heart of the matter and it is his listening skills which allow him to understand what his clients really want.  Which is why I am delighted to say he has been nominated for the 2011 Scottish legal awards in the specialist lawyer category! More in today’s scotsman or information    The kids and I have known for a couple of days and are over the moon for him!  Well done Andy Drane and thanks for letting me often chat away when I should be listening!  I’m working on it honestly!


About fionadranesblog

40 plus mum of two married with a mad cocker spaniel. Along with two colleagues run Bright Light Marketing a rural marketing agency who specialise in getting rural businesss noticed. Live in St Boswells in the wonderful Scottish Borders. Love books, walking and living life to the full here in the Scottish Borders though its sometimes a juggle!
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