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 06/28/10

Why We Check In: The Reasons People Use Location-Based Social Networks
Is it for the colorful badges or the chance of a spontaneous meet-up with like-minded people? Marshall Kirkpatrick explores these and other reasons why people are becoming obsessed with “checking in” on location-based social networks like Foursquare and Gowalla.

Social networking sites: 10 mistakes organizations make
Steven Overly from the Washington Post provides these helpful “back-to-basics” tips that highlight many of the things organizations aren’t doing right when it comes to integrating social media with their online marketing strategies.

ROI: Marketing’s Best Frienemy
Helena Bouchez explores Christopher S. Penn’s statement on a Marketer’s accountability of their efforts and how it effects the success or failure of the bottom line.

Why Your Release Might Not Make It In to Google News
Business Wire’s Joseph Miller explores several reasons why the carefully crafted press release you worked so hard on might not show up on Google News, and he provides some helpful tips to ensure that it always does.

Social Networking Affects Brains Like Falling in Love

This Fast Company post explains how Neuroeconomist, Paul Zak has figured out that social networking releases a chemical in our brain that triggers “empathy, generosity, trust and more.” Click the link for the full read, or get the 50 second run-down via the video below.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 05/31/10

Will people stop buying Coca Cola? Maybe not, but Eric Bovim writes in PRWeek that Food and Beverage Companies Face a PR Challenge – facing a plethora of new programs focused on healthier food options. From First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Campaign,” to a powerful new coalition of big brands and the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, big food companies need to convince the press to focus on the positive aspects of what they provide… a job easier said than done.

John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing wrote a provocative article for Ragan on “Why Social Media Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” He says too many people are focused on adopting or keeping up with the latest and greatest social media tools, when they should rather be focused on customer engagement. A smart piece that takes you through the hype to the heart of the matter when it comes to social media for business and marketing.

Speaking of John, he’s a great marketer who recently wrote a book called The Referral Engine – and it’s featured on Inc. Magazine’s new Business Book Bestseller List. If you’re looking for some great summer reading, check it out.

I’m a fan of Foursquare and am happy to see its growth, as more and  more marketers help brands use it in their campaigns. One of the latest collaborations is a partnership with Cynthia Rowley to launch Cynthia Rowley Bridesmaids at a wedding-centric event. One of PerkettPR’s partner firms, Fashionably Digital, was commissioned to develop and implement the campaign. Women’s Wear Daily Writes in this week’s Social Studies, this is “the first time a manufacturer, a designer and a retailer collaborated on this kind of initiative.”

I’m also in love with my iPad but I’m not quite as creative as other users – which I learned when glamour tech gal Shira Lazar recently pointed me to a CBS piece she wrote on “5 Totally Insane Ways to Use Your iPad.” I don’t plan to perform surgery with mine anytime soon, although I did enjoy learning that the iPad is so cool, it can indeed “Shred.”

 

 

Persuasive Picks for the week of 05/03/10

Social-media games: Badges or badgering?
CNET staff writer Caroline McCarthy expands on the growing popularity of “badge-based” achievements popping up on websites like The Huffington Post and applications like Foursquare as forms of incentive to interact.

Are your social media metrics diagnostic or objective?
Christopher S. Penn provides an entertaining and informative explanation of the difference between diagnostic and objective social media metrics. His post clearly shows the importance of knowing the difference.

How social media has changed executive roles
SFGate staff writer Benny Evangelista shares this brief interview with Charlene Li about the new wave of Open Leadership that is changing the way executives manage their leadership roles.

Sorry Guys: When It Comes to Your Audience, Size DOES Matter
Justin Kownacki hits the nail on the head with this fantastic post about the long winded debate between quantity versus quality when it comes to follower numbers on social networks. Read on for the secret to success.

Social media used to market Mother’s Day
USA Today’s Bruce Horovitz provides numerous examples of how brands are leveraging social media with targeted campaigns to attract your dollars when it comes to paying homage to Mom this Mother’s Day.

Photo Credit: Nerd Merit Badges

It’s Not Personal – or Is It?

When Twitter first arrived on the scene a few years ago, it took a long while for businesses to jump on the bandwagon. A few brave souls were early adopters but even today, there’s still a lot of skepticism on whether or not social media is appropriate and valuable for business. I think we’ve made it clear here that we believe it is, but if you’re still wondering, take a look at some of the biggest “web-celebs” (individuals popular on the web and who have successfully used it to build and extend their brand) and their use of social media. Many of them use it solely for the purpose of business – you rarely, if ever, see a personal update from them. So, although one might argue that these folks are focused on “personal branding,” ultimately, they are using their recognition to grow their businesses. A few examples:

Pete Cashmore (he moved over to Google Buzz in lieu of his “personal” Twitter account)

Robert Scoble (a few scattered personal comments but usually around where he is, especially with his current focus to travel the world to study how start-ups are formed)

Guy Kawasaki (“firehose” is putting it lightly)

Michael Arrington (if you don’t count semi-arguments with people trying to get his attention through controversial engagement)

Brian Solis (the most personal current Tweets are around his own book)

On the flip side, there are several examples of some new “web celebs” who often share personal updates, sometimes posting such random things like quotes from their favorite song, or what they had for dinner. Folks like Laura Fitton of oneforty, Penelope Trunk (who is a writer, so perhaps this is part of her persona), Chris Brogan (also a blogger, but now also a marketer) and Peter Shankman (of HARO fame) all share a combination of personal viewpoints and professional insights.

Then there’s a lot of talk about the new “over sharing” of personal information around location-based technologies, such as Foursquare. If you missed the latest hoopla, check out this TIME story on Please Rob Me and the dangers of getting too personal online. A recent PR-specific example of over sharing is the young lady who was hired – and then had her offer rescinded – by People’s Revolution (a fashion PR firm and center of the BravoTV show, Kell On Earth) for tweeting about her job interview.

So what’s my point? It’s really more of a question – are those who keep content more professional-focused and less personal-focused, more successful in business? Have social media networks crossed the chasm from personal fun to serious business tool? If so, why are so many brands still hesitant to make the leap into social marketing? Clearly, these few examples are only a small part of the social media population – but they are also strong examples of those who have successfully grown their personal brand through heavy use of social media and digital content.

What’s your style? Do you have a preference of the type of people that you connect with in social networks? Is it better as a business/executive – especially a marketer – to keep what you share 100% professional? I tend to believe that as a PR executive, social networks give us the opportunity to show that we’re human, more intelligent than often given credit for, and interested and passionate about many of the very products and services we promote. However, I often wonder whether or not I should post anything personal on my social networks. My historical preference has been to strike a balance between professional and personal posts, although with Facebook I really struggle – should I be posting anything personal? If I want to be personal, should I only accept “friends” who are truly friends in real life (you know, those people I’ve actually met and share common interests with)?

What do you think? I’m particularly interested in hearing from those who have built brand awareness online and if such success came from staying on one side of the fence or another. Thanks in advance for “sharing.”