The Art of Listening in Client Service

At the risk of stereotyping myself, and my peers, it seems to me that most PR personalities are talkers, spinners and strategists, but rarely are they quiet listeners or observers. This observation is based on my own experience in PR over the last decade or so. I also speak from that rare position of listener.

Yep, I’m a listener. One of the ‘quiet ones,’ I buck the PR stereotype. I’m an introvert; shy to the point of pain in my youth; and though I have gotten over the pain part, I can still think of 100 things I would rather do than interject myself into a conversation with someone I just met.

Not surprisingly, this has caused some angst for me from a professional standpoint. In the client service business, we must prove ourselves every day – to our clients, colleagues and managers. In PR, this often takes the form of strategic counsel and creative ideas shared verbally in a meeting or via a conference call.

Fortunately, I’ve had some excellent guidance and support here at PerkettPR and have overcome most of my fears about voicing my ideas. Despite these strides, I still believe wholeheartedly that my ability to listen has benefited my teams, my clients, and me in countless ways – perhaps in more important ways than my verbal observations ever will.

Good customer service begins with listening

I’ve heard time and again, “if they don’t hear from you, they don’t know you’re engaged.” I’d argue that good client service is as much about listening as it is about presenting, counseling and verbalizing ideas. Listening is another form of engagement.

I’m surely not the only one who’s come across a verbose PR pro who doesn’t know when to be quiet. You know, the one that cuts you off, interrupts the client, pretends to listen, but then continues talking up his or her idea. Sure, they can talk about their ideas and offer advice on the fly, but it’s the listeners who actually hear and understand what the client really wants. Everyone wants to be heard, especially if they’re paying someone to listen.

We cannot provide excellent counsel without first listening and understanding what our clients have to say. Listening goes far beyond remaining silent while someone else speaks. Listening is about paying attention to the nuances of the conversation, recognizing what isn’t being said, and then applying what you’ve heard to the matter at hand.

Social Media – talking or listening?

As our business – and the world around us – evolves, listening is becoming more important than ever. With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Whrrl and countless other social networks encouraging brief status updates, we’re overrun with one-way conversations. It seems everyone has something to say, but is anybody listening?

Christine Perkett has spoken about the importance of listening as part of the social conversation for some time. In a 2009 blog post, she commented, “One of the most effective ways to connect with any audience is to show them that you care. One of the easiest ways to show someone that you care is to listen.” This still holds true today, with even more noise entering the market daily.

More recently Gartner’s Michael Maoz shared his thoughts on the lost art of listening. He notes that many of his clients who are introducing social capabilities to their businesses are reaping big points from their customers by simply demonstrating their willingness to listen. Brands that are most successful with social media are those that understand it is a two-way dialogue, and an opportunity to listen to their customers – just on a broader scale.

Listen up

Granted, in the day-to-day life of your average PR professional, social listening is only part of the job. Our clients look to us for ideas, strategy and counsel delivered verbally or otherwise. And we’ll provide it (even those of us that are more natural listeners, than talkers ;-)) but, first, we’ll ensure we’ve taken the time to listen to their needs and concerns carefully, and offer thoughtful advice that helps them to reach their business goals – not just a knee jerk reaction or response.

What are your thoughts on the art of listening? Are we in danger of losing this crucial skill? How do you ensure you’re really listening to your customers? We’d love to HEAR from you in the comments.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 09/20/10

The New Twitter and What It Means for Your Custom Background
Hugh Briss covers how the recent Twitter interface change will affect all the custom backgrounds implemented on Twitter user’s accounts. Looks like it’s time to fire up Photoshop!

Facebook is spreading like the plague
While brands and business continue to find ways to leverage Facebook in positive ways for the bottom line, personal use of the platform continues to roll into the gutter. Lauren Beckham Falcone provides an eye-opening perspective in this post on BostonHerald.com.

Stories declaring ‘death of PR’ are misguided
Mia Wedgbury from TheGlobeAndMail.com shares her take on the “PR is Dead” declaration that has been knocking on the door of the public relations profession in recent times.

How Businesses Are Unleashing Their Employees’ Social Media Potential
Josh Bernoff, Senior Vice President, Idea Development, at Forrester Research – and the co-author of Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business – shares several great examples of how companies are finding success by allowing their employees to be empowered.

4 Marketing Lessons From the Walgreens Transformation
Linda Ireland highlights Walgreens‘ recent switch to “convenience from a customer point of view,” and she shares several takeaways that can be applied to your own business.

PR Pitching PR – an Influencer Twilight Zone

In July I gave a presentation at T3PR titled, “Driving your online footprint: PR experts as influencers.” My focus was on how a new breed of PR experts have fast become influencers in their own right through the power of social media and personal brand building: why it matters, how it’s indicative of our changing industry and how the reputation of today’s PR executive matters more than ever.

While PR executives are traditionally the man behind the curtain, the invisibles, the ones who quickly put the right person/product/client in the spotlight – in front of influencers like the media – and then get the heck out of the way, the rise of social media has allowed PR executives to become influencers themselves. Companies aren’t just hiring them to do PR, but to be their web-celeb spokespeople, red carpet correspondents, marketing analysts, brand-to-customer ambassadors or even video/TV stars.

PR executives in general – most of whom may never be on BravoTV – have both an opportunity – and a risk – to show how we really think. It has always been my belief that if you simply talk to reporters and hold your own in a conversation (that is, not just pitching when you want something but rather, an overall practice of sharing thoughts and insights on the products you promote, the industry you’re in, the articles reporters are writing, or business in general) – you will gain a greater amount of respect and ultimately, be more successful in working with them. And over the last few years, several of our industry colleagues have paved the way for “Flaks with Brains.” Some are newcomers, some are veterans – but their use of social media has raised awareness of public relations executives as strategic thinkers – sharing valuable insights beyond the confines of a client’s boardroom.

And that’s great. But what does it mean for the traditional list of influencers that a PR team might compile and pursue? These days, the lines are blurring. A lot of business people blog – especially PR and marketing executives. Every day a new list comes out of marketing influencers, top PR blogs or “Most Powerful Twitter Users.” And even if the folks on those lists are PR industry colleagues, they might be important to your client because of their social media clout.

I know because I’ve experienced this phenomenon from two sides in the last six months. On one side, we had a client who asked us to connect with, promote to and otherwise engage industry influencers on their behalf. A handful of these influencers were people who own PR or social marketing agencies that we often compete against, but whose founders are building powerful personal brands – writing books, speaking at conferences, topping every social media power list – that they are now seen by many brands to be as influential as reporters and analysts. Suffice it to say, our strategy in such cases is not to pitch these folks in the way we would pitch a reporter. It takes a different approach, one that’s just as thought out and maybe even more personable than pitching media. (In an honest side note – sometimes having a client ask you to pitch fellow PR colleagues feels a little bit like The J. Geils Band lyrics in “Love Stinks.”)

I’ve also been pitched by PR reps lately – but usually it’s a very personal approach by a fellow industry colleague that doesn’t feel like a pitch, so much as someone asking for a favor (smart). More recently, I was pitched by a well-known, global PR agency, citing my influence in the blogosphere and asking me to interview their client to help raise awareness of an upcoming show. The pitch “encouraged” me to write about the event and interview the CEO on my blog (which one, btw? #PRtip).

My first thought: “That was a long and impersonal pitch.” My second thought: “That was weird.”

But maybe it’s not so weird. Had the pitch been more specific, I could probably better understand why this firm thought I was worth pitching as a blogger for this particular client. And I might even have found interest in writing something.

All that being said, I’m sure this is happening more and more – PR pitching PR. I can see more clients wanting agencies to pitch marketing and PR influencers who actually work for other agencies but are also strong voices in the social marketing sphere. If you have a client who sells to PR and Marketing audiences, it’s bound to happen.

So how are you building your influencer lists? Do you include PR and marketing bloggers – those who are also industry colleagues – in your outreach? Do you approach them differently than you would a journalist? We’d love your thoughts – and advice to PR pros looking for the best way to break into this new foreign territory.

 

Persuasive Picks for the week of 09/13/10

6 Ways to Lose Customers, Credibility And Friends On Social Media
Outspoken Media’s Lisa Barone reviews some unsavory online behaviors in social platforms that should be avoided when marketing yourself and your business.

B2Bs Tap Social to Boost Search
This eMarketer post highlights a recent study showing that B2B marketers are finding positive results from their online social efforts, but not all are following through with proactive monitoring – and as a result, might be leaving additional opportunities on the table.

Google’s Schmidt taking small steps into social
People’s anticipation that Google has been secretly working on a monster social platform to challenge the likes of Facebook was brought down a few notches after Google CEO, Eric Schmidt‘s,  Zeitgeist 2010 conference presentation.

Debunking 5 Myths About Content Marketing
You’ve probably heard the phrase “content is king” on more than one occasion, but regardless of how many times it’s said, companies still feel overwhelmed with the idea of creating new content (consistently) for publishing on social platforms. This post by ConversationAgent, Valeria Maltoni, clears up five misconceptions that often come with the territory in content marketing.

What people are saying about upcoming Twitter redesign
Paul McNamara from NetworkWorld‘s Buzzblog shares various perspectives from notable industry voices on this week’s interface redesign announcement from Twitter. Here’s Twitter’s official promotional video for the redesign – including a glimpse of the interface towards the end (if you missed it earlier).

 

Image: respres (via Flickr)

Can Second Life get a Second Life?

I read Mitch Wagner’s Computerworld blog post last week, “Fast, Easy, Fun” with Second Life founder Philip Rosedale –  and it made me wonder – what would it take for me to try Second Life again. My first experience with using Second Life was not positive to say the least and I don’t think just hearing that it had new functionality would be enough to entice me to change my mind. What I didn’t hear in this article is what Rosedale has planned for changing the way people think of Second Life.

In my opinion, Second Life’s problem is twofold –

  1. Technology: Yes, they HAVE to make it fast, easy and fun because when I tried it, it was slow, difficult and boring.  For all of the press and promise Second Life had, it did not appeal to me in the least. In fact it was kind of creepy. I do recall liking the name I came up with and my outfit, but beyond that, it just seemed like a bad trip. I REALLY wanted to like it but in the end, it did nothing for me but crash my computer and waste my time.
  2. Public Perception: Aside from Mitch, I do not know ONE person who is on Second Life. Obviously someone is, but it’s no Facebook. They are going to have to really work hard to make people think its “cool” and be willing to try it again as it seems to me that the world has moved on.  No one is there, not much is going on.  I’m not sure people would even admit trying it – like going to a lame party and then hoping no one found out you were there.

So, what would make me try Second Life again? How can they revive their brand?

What would make me try any service or product again that is not only dated but that is often ridiculed by the general public?  Would I say I just started a new Plurk account?  Would I tell a friend that I just cut my hair with a Flow-bee? Would I say I just bought my boyfriend some Old Spice…..well…I wouldn’t have a year ago because I’d be afraid to hear, “Hey Lisa, 1975 called, they want their cologne back.”

So why would I now?  How did they revive their brand?

As we know, Old Spice did something brilliant but simple – they made people talk about their product again.  They made it seem cool to use their product, they made it seem like cool people were already using their product, and they made people laugh.

It sounds like high school, but honestly, people want to know that other people are doing something before they will do it, especially if they fear being mocked for doing it. They really want to know that the cool people are doing it. And they want the promise that they will get something out of it – fun or learning, they have to believe there is good reason to try again.

Second Life has to invest just as much in PR, marketing  and advertising as they do in the technology.  People say that PR & marketing are now irrelevant – but think about how many times you’ve said Old Spice in the last ten years, and then think about how many times you’ve said it in the last two months. Old Spice didn’t change their product, they just changed how people thought about their product. Of course the quality of technology, product, or service matters, but how it’s packaged up and sold matters almost as much.

For me, its going to take a better experience and some very cool promotions. My friend even suggested setting up a Sterling, Cooper, Draper Pryce and letting people interact with the characters – now that would get me back there.

So, what would make YOU try Second Life again?

Disclosure: Mitch Wagner is currently a client of PerkettPR