The art of good listening

Posted: 9th July 2013 • by Chloe Ingram

It is often said that we have two ears and one mouth because we should use them in that proportion. Listening is certainly overlooked in the art of good communication. Lots of people go on presentation skills training – yet I have never met anyone who has attended listening skills training, even though most of us would probably benefit from it.

Good listening provides us with the powerful opportunity to truly understand our customers and therefore to deliver what they want. It’s the basis of all good marketing – no campaign can be truly be effective without understanding your client’s proposition and listening to their objectives. Most clients give advice as to what to do to really impress them – just listen.

Not listening to your client is like being the hairdresser who gives their client a short, spiky crop when they’ve asked for a long, bouncy bouffant. In a classic episode of Mary Portas’ Queen of Shops, hairdresser John Peers did exactly that, giving a long-haired volunteer model who’d asked for a ‘Cheryl Cole cut’ a good shearing. It made for horrifyingly cringe-worthy television and demonstrated that even the best haircut in the world won’t make the customer happy if you haven’t listened to their requirements.

Listening for marketers

I always think that the outcome of any marketing project is only as strong as the initial brief, so make sure that you have a written briefing document agreed by both parties with clear objectives.

Marketers are usually hired for their specialist knowledge, so don’t expect the client to have all of the answers – but do expect them to provide a clear vision of what outcomes they expect of any activity. Good listening is essential here – never finish others’ sentences or allow interruptions (e.g. mobile phone calls) to take place during your meeting, as meanings can easily be lost.

Do listen intently and use reciprocal body language to show that you’re actively engaged with your client’s conversation.

Listening for businesses

A complaint is a gift – it gives your business the opportunity to rectify your customer’s experience (the ‘moment of truth’) but also provides an invaluable opportunity to improve your service for the next user. Social media provides an excellent platform for your customers to get in touch quickly and to address problems immediately – just remember to develop those conversations offline.

If your business doesn’t currently use social media, bear in mind that it’s now an essential part of the marketing mix, and by not having a presence you are allowing conversations about your brand to take place without you. Do get help from a professional marketer in setting up your social media accounts, who can devise an appropriate messaging strategy for your brand and provide training where appropriate. Use a Twitter client such as Hootsuite to listen out for brand and industry mentions and respond accordingly. Above all, make sure that you listen – never use social media as a one way platform to simply broadcast messages, or you’ll end up like John Peers giving that poor customer a terrible haircut.


Chloe IngramI am a CIM-qualified freelance marketing consultant based in Birmingham, UK. I work with SMEs across the West Midlands region, helping with marketing strategy, planning and implementation. If you would like advice on marketing your business please get in touch for a no-obligation consultation.

Read more »