Why Active Listening is the Key to a Successful Strategy.



We're a few weeks into 2020, and now that things are moving at a fast pace once again, this last week of January is a great time to slow down enough to do some active listening with yourself and your team. And once you’ve done that active listening - to translate your findings and realizations into a strategy that will move you far beyond where you were in 2019.


Let’s break this down with an example - say you’ve actively listened to your team, and you’re hearing that there are so many customer inquiries and complaints coming in that they can’t keep up with them. They’re exhausted and frustrated, and the system you have doesn’t seem to be working. They can’t seem to gain some clarity around how to “keep up”.


Through your active listening - you discern that the problem may not really be the system or the inquiries or complaints, the problem may be a lack of connectedness to the customer throughout the customer journey.


This is the practice of identifying the root cause, rather than a surface level issue.

The surface level issue here is the frustration with the number of inquiries.


The root cause is the lack of connectedness to the customer throughout the customer journey.


Without the focus on active listening, you and your team could have started attempting to fix or develop solutions around the number of inquiries coming in, rather than pulling back to identify the root cause of connectedness to the customer throughout the customer journey.


The “fixes” around these areas are different - a team may suggest they need to hire more people to answer inquiries - rather than potentially adding a series of short tutorials via text or email throughout different points along the customer journey to answer questions and anticipate the needs of the customer.


The rabbit trails that can extend from a lack of active listening and identifying root causes can cost companies a lot of time and money.


Let’s look at some examples of Surface vs. Root Cause Issues:


1. As a company that sells a product, after purchasing the product, the customer may not be receiving a 2 minute video tutorial on how to maintain the product. This “gap” may be causing extra questions or product failures because of lack of proper maintenance. 


2. As a private school, enrollment is down, but the problem isn’t really a lack of marketing, it’s lack of a retention strategy that ignites word of mouth marketing. 


3. As a real estate company selling homes, the problem isn’t a lack of listings, the problem is a lack of preview strategy, where potential buyers can see the home with renovation completed, giving them a vision for what it could be.


These are simple examples, and they can be applied to any industry. I’d like to challenge you to take a moment to think through how this applies to you with these questions:


  1. What comes to mind in terms of surface issues vs. root causes in your organization?

  2. How can you make it a “habit” in 2020 to regularly identify root causes?

  3. What “gaps” in your customer journey do you need to bridge with your team this year?


The more time you spend uncovering the underlying issues, the more you’ll design impactful solutions around root causes that move the needle in your organization.


It requires the harder work of listening first, but will cut down on time spent in meetings, frustration in the workplace, and lack of focus as an organization.


Here are some practical steps that you can work through with your team in 2020 to kickstart a successful active listening strategy:


Prerequisites (foundational work) :

1. Establish clear, segmented user personas, understanding each of your customer “buckets” and their “root” desires.

2. Development of customer journey maps that document the experience you provide from beginning to end, by channel.


Strategy “Loop”:

1. Develop a regular schedule of practicing active listening with yourself, your team and your customers.

2. When issues arise, identify “surface” vs. “root cause” issues.Identify the “big 3” around executing a “root cause” strategy with your team.


Repeating this “loop” of activities invites transparency and connectedness into an organization, breeding the execution of successful strategies.