Identify Customer Needs with Mindful Listening

Listening closely to your prospects and customers can be challenging, especially since the mind can process words at a rate of approximately 500 words per minute, but people talk at a rate of approximately 150 words per minute. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of listening to a customer and realizing your attention has been pulled away by distracting thoughts. You can use mindful listening skills to help you focus on customers, encourage them to talk, and identify their needs and challenges.

One effective mindful listening skill is the technique of paraphrasing what your customers say. I learned about this important skill while in college, working on a telephone crisis intervention hotline. During my training for the job, the supervisor’s instruction to “repeat what the callers say back to them” was confusing. I said, “You want me to repeat what the callers say back to them? Wouldn’t that be awkward?” The supervisor looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. “You think it would be awkward to repeat what the callers say back to them?” I nodded emphatically. “Yes, I do! (pause) Oooh. Now I get it.”

When you repeat your customer’s messages back, it creates understanding and shows the customer you’re listening. It also leaves room for a customer to say, “I didn’t exactly mean that, what I really meant was this.” You can either paraphrase the customer’s words throughout your conversation, or when your customer is finished answering your questions, by saying, “Just so I can make sure I understand . . .,” and then summarize what you just heard.

People love to have someone take an interest in what they say. The more you listen, the more you can learn, and the more you learn, the greater the probability of uncovering a need your product or service can fulfill. You can even practice mindful listening skills with family and friends—they’ll likely appreciate your attention to them!