When A Customer walks into your store and starts interacting with you, are you listening as intently as you can, or are you distracted by other things? Are you only half-listening because you're thinking about what you're going to say next?
Active listening is listening with intent, listening for meaning. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, defines active listening as "a structured way of listening and responding to others. It focuses attention on the speaker. Suspending one's own frame of reference and suspending judgment are important in order to fully attend to the speaker."
It's important to engage in active listening with all of your customers, but let's focus on why it's key when interacting with women.
It's human nature to form judgments about people based on initial impressions. In the setting of a motorcycle dealership where the presence of men usually dominates, it's easy to prejudge a woman walking into the store based on how she looks.
A woman who is 4'11" walks in and wants to buy a motorcycle. You may prejudge her because of her height, thinking she'll want a very low or beginner motorcycle. She actually may be an expert rider who is ready to trade up to a touring bike and needs your advice on how she can modify a larger bike to fit her size. This calls for active listening.
Another example has a male salesperson prejudging an attractive woman who comes off as a "dumb blonde." She may appear ditzy, but she's done her homework and has all of her information in order. This calls for active listening.
HOW TO DO IT
So how do you engage in active listening? Very simple:
Listen intently to what the customer is saying while being acutely aware of her body language.
Restate what the customer just said to you, prefacing it with, "So if I understand correctly, you want ... " and then restate or paraphrase what was just said.
By restating what you've just heard, you convey that you understand what was just said to you. This puts the customer at ease knowing that you appear to be truly listening and intent on understanding her needs. It also gives you time to formulate a thoughtful response.
Note that when you paraphrase a customer's words, is doesn't mean you're necessarily agreeing with the person. If you disagree, or the customer made an erroneous statement, it's still important to show that you heard what she said by paraphrasing it back to her.
Active listening is particularly important in the service area, where many women feel at a disadvantage. Most don't know a whole lot about the mechanical side of their motorcycle, so when conveying a problem about the bike they fear sounding dumb or being misunderstood. By restating what a female customer just said, you're showing that you're listening and making an attempt to understand her problem. Again, this starts to put the customer at ease. After you've restated what the person said, ask a follow-up question, or begin to state your answer.
Active listening comes in handy in emotionally charged situations. People who are at odds with each other are usually more concerned about making their own feelings known rather than trying to understand the other person's feelings. Even though you may disagree with a customer's position, it's important that you listen intently, and restate his or her position before stating your position. By engaging in active listening, you're validating the customer's position, showing that you at least understand her problem. It's a good start on the road to resolving conflict. Some people just want to be heard; there may never be resolution to a problem. A resolution can simply be that we agree to disagree, but at least both sides were understood and validated through active listening.
By the way, we should actively listen in all of our relationships. Couples can benefit from a communication style that uses the technique. Active listening forces us to slow down and be aware of the situation at hand. Being fully conscious of an interaction between yourself and another individual helps to prevent our mind from prejudging and jumping to conclusions. It also helps to build trust — a very important component of a sales relationship, particularly with women.