INDIANAPOLIS, IN — In an officical QSC educational seminar sponsored by A.O. Smith, Tim McGuire VP of Content and Community and David Thiemecke, VP of Learning and Deveopment, both of Pointman (pointman.com) a field service management company, presented their session, "Hearing is Not Enough: Overcoming Objections and Take Control by Listening" at the Indiana Convention Center during the PHCC's Connect 2019.
Most plumbing and heating contractors are dealing with people who are in, if not an emergency, a stressful situation that can often mean a major financial decision. And for a lot of contractors, making the sale means overcoming their objections. Most contractors, in fact, have scripts they train their technicians and customer service reps to use that tackle each possible objection the customer may have that stands in the way of a sale.
And that, McGuire and Thiemecke feel, is not the best way to run a business, grow a customer base, or gain return customers. The key, McGuire said in his presentation, was not just to hear the customer, but to actively listen to them.
McGuire went on to define four types of listening: Connective, where you seek the other person's point of view; Reflective, where you think about what you want out of the conversation; Analytical, where you consider the conversation dispassionately, without thinking about the feelings on either side; and Conceptual, where you try to determine how what you're hearing fits into the bigger picture.
The barrier to understanding, McGuire continued, is in taking a “me vs. you” approach. When we listen, we are all of us subject to fundamental attribution error. That is to say, we judge things that happen to us differently than the things that happen to other people.
For example, we often attribute the actions of other people to their personality, while we attribute our own actions to our situation. That person who cut me off in traffic is a jerk; I, on the other hand, had to hurry to pick my kid up from school, and really wish I didn’t need to cut that other person off.
That attribution bias affects the way we engage in conversations. On average, we only retain about 25% of what we hear. The average small business spends 17.5 hours a week explaining miscommunications. A company that communicates well with its employees has 55% lower turnover rate.
So how, then, can we be better listeners?
Attendees at the session were then given workbooks and told to partner up. The situations they had to work through was a typical one: a contractor trying to make a sale, with a customer offering an objection. BUT, behind each objection was a listing of underlying premises. For example, if the objection was “The price is too high,” the underlying premise might be, “to get the job done on time,” or “to fit the cash I have on hand,” or “to match my spouse’s expectations.”
After the exercise, those who played the contractor had their performance reviewed, with an eye towards who managed to find the underlying premise. Even those contractors who had managed to overcome the objection, but failed to uncover the premise for the objection, left their role-play customers feeling “unheard” and “annoyed.”
We all have pre-set answers to typical objections, McGuire said, but when we do that we’re putting ourselves and our customers on different teams. It should never be the customer vs. the contractor; it should be the customer and the contractor together vs. the problem.
Next, they repeated the exercise, with the roles reversed, and this time an emphasis on asking clarifying questions, with the aim of the contractor being to get at the premise underlying the objection. This time, the contractors did (a little) better. And the customers felt “heard,” and even “cared for.”
Thiemecke was quick to point out that the contractor or service provider has to wait until the time is right, until they have the underlying premise, before they offer a solution. “Make sure they get out in the open all they have to say,” he said.
And then it is important to ask permission before offering your perspective. That “ask” is an important part of showing respect for the feelings of the other person. Some ways to ask that Thiemecke suggested included, “Can I tell you a story about a person who was in a similar place?” or “Would it be okay if I suggested some options?”
And it’s important to realize, the end-point of the discussion might not be a sale. But the point is that all of the objections have been fairly faced. That’s the way to build a relationship—and a reputation—that will only pay off down the road.