There are plenty of meetings and other times you speak with people to launch products, come up with ideas, and work collaboratively—and listening is part of that collaboration. But there is a difference between listening and active listening. Listening means you are hearing what is being said, but active listening means you are proactively taking mental or physical notes so you can take action on the feedback. Active listening often involves making changes and work.
We are going to discover five tips for actively listening to stakeholders and customers. Tips 1-3 are most applicable internally, Tip 4 is applicable externally to customers, and Tip 5 brings it all together.
Here are the five tips to ensure you are actively listening to stakeholders and customers:
Your employees' net promoter score, or NPS, is a good gauge of how you are doing and an easy way to actively listen to your stakeholders. This is calculated from a survey, normally distributed yearly, in which employees measure you as a leader and the company as a whole. The Net Promoter Score is calculated as the difference between the percentage of Promoters and Detractors. For example, if you have 75% Promoters, 20% Passives, and 5% Detractors, the NPS will be +70. The industry benchmark for a tech company is usually somewhere around +35.
The NPS survey allows your stakeholders to (anonymously) share how they are feeling about different departments and the company as a whole. Often times they are asked about leadership as well, so it is more applicable to people leaders.
However, you can also use the NPS results and scores to make sure you really listen to what your internal stakeholders are saying. For example, if there are issues with feeling valued or ensuring ideas are heard, you could come up with ways to ensure that this is actively worked on at a company or department level.
Looking at results from employee surveys and acting on them to make positive changes means you are actively listening.
An NPS can also be part of a customer survey. We will discuss this later in the guide.
Skip-level meetings are a great way to improve your active listening skills. These are regular meetings with people who do not directly report to you but are somewhere in your organization. They are most common for senior-level positions or key decision-makers that have large organizations.
As you conduct these, I bet you that you will hear many different ideas to help you innovate and help employees feel valued. Additionally, the simple act of holding these meetings allows your employees to know you are there and that you want to talk to them. People want to feel valued and know their ideas are being heard.
Taking these one-on-one meetings will allow you to actively listening to what the men and women doing the work and various other stakeholders think. They often have the best insight as to how things are going and what will work going forward.
A 360 peer review allows all of your stakeholders at various levels in the organization to share how you are doing either on a certain project or as a whole. These are often done anonymously so people are able to leave comments and speak their minds.
Asking for 360 feedback is something anyone can do, unlike an NPS, which is usually done for people managers. I would encourage you to ask for a 360 review, as many corporations have a platform set up for this. This will allow you to take feedback and actively listen to stakeholder’s thoughts. It is also great because it is written, so you can take time to sit down and really review it to ensure you understand the feedback and take action.
The first three tips applied mainly to internal stakeholders, but what about your customers? They are obviously super important. How can you actively listen to them? It is important to meet with them and actively listen, but surveys, especially if they are anonymous, will also get you very honest feedback. Conducting quick, three- to five-question surveys with simple, multiple-choice questions that a customer can complete in five minutes or less is key to actively listening.
An NPS score can be included as part of these surveys. I discussed how to calculate the NPS earlier in the guide—but how do you send a survey where you capture the results? There is a standard way to do this (https://www.netpromoter.com/know/). It is important that it is calculated on an 11-point scale from 0-10 and that you use the official methodology at this link.
This is applicable to all four of the tips we have already discussed. You need to TURN. OFF. THE. NOISE. That means, when someone is talking to you, you need to listen and put away the email, text, other calls, or whatever else might be coming in. You cannot soak in all this great feedback or actively listen if you continue to multi-task.
So, turn it off, focus on what you are doing and who is speaking to you, and don’t just physically be on the phone or computer—make sure you are actively listening.
There are ways to listen, and there are ways to actively listen. It is very important to practice active listening. If you aren’t, then you are simply wasting everyone’s time because there's not much you can do when what is being said is not being acted upon. I encourage you to apply these active listening skills in all your relationships and partnerships.