I am a podcast junkie.  If I am walking the dog or cleaning the house, there is a good chance I am listening to a podcast.  The episode that got me thinking this week was about from the TedRadio Hour and the segment was on listening (TedTalks).  Here are the parts that made me stop and think—


We discount sounds that remain the same.   We don’t hear the traffic or the air conditioner.  We don’t hear the birds in the trees and we don’t hear the dog barking down the street.   There is sound there, but we are so used to hearing it that it blends into the background.


I find that is also true of conversations with customers.  When a customer starts telling us about an issue they are having or recalling an experience from their workday, unless it is highly unusual, we stop listening.  We have heard this before.  We don’t need to ask any more questions.  We go into “reductive mode.”  We know how to solve their problem.    

“So, next time, when the login screen appears, just hit enter twice and that will get you in.” 

“We’ll get you a hard copy of the text so you can have a back-up at home.” 

“How about we discount the software for the first year?”

“How about I get a technology specialist to do some additional training with your staff?”


We aren’t listening.


Listening is our access to understanding.  Sure, we might be able to find a short term solution for their problem, but we haven’t learned anything else.   We don’t know how this problem affects their workflow, what they do for workarounds, how they talk about their issue with others, or who else it affects and how?  We don’t know if this problem is a deal-breaker or an annoyance (that could one day become a deal breaker). We aren’t able to take any significant new information back to our product teams, our marketing teams, our content teams.  We aren’t improving our product.  


But why aren’t we getting under what is really going on in their customer’s head?  Fear.  Expansive listening—not trying to solve the problem but rather understand the problem—is uncertain. 

What if they don’t talk about things I can solve? 

What if they don’t lead me to a feature I can sell?

What if I just don’t know what they are talking about?

Expansive listening is hard.  It can go in ways you don’t expect.  It can lead to places that require much more work than anticipated.  It can expose gaps. 

And it provides real insight.


How are you listening to your customers?