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Approach communicating and serving customers with an open mind.
Approach communicating and serving customers with an open mind.

Why emotional literacy is the key to making sales

Selling and serving customers relies on the ability to understand their wants and needs, as well as their communication context, writes SUE BARRETT.

Communicating with people who are similar to us – those with whom we have a lot in common, even down to the way we dress or speak – is simply easier, for the most part.

From the brain’s perspective it is efficient; we can anticipate what these people want, or what they are trying to say, because we identify with them.

Of course, who you interact on a daily basis with will depend on what you do for a living and the industry within which you work.

However, what can be said with certainty is that you will always come across people who are different from you.

In sales and service-oriented careers – in fact, in any customer-facing role – we are exposed to a variety of people, often from very different walks of life.

Regardless of how similar or different other people are to us, we can use effective human-centred communication skills, combined with emotional literacy, to discern what they want.

It is when we need to work with or serve people who appear or speak differently from us that we might have problems.

The first issue is making assumptions that aren’t necessarily correct.

Building on these assumptions, salespeople can then fall into another trap of jumping to conclusions about what they are thinking or feeling, or even how they might react to what we say – and this can lead to difficult interactions.

You can hear and see evidence of this when a staff member reacts badly to a customer, especially when under pressure; for example, when they are dealing with a complaint or what they perceive to be a completely unreasonable request.

The communication channel usually breaks down quickly and the staff member can sometimes speak to – or about – the customer using derogatory terms, such as calling them an idiot or moron.

Sound familiar?

In a retail setting, the customer leaves this interaction dissatisfied and unlikely to return, while the staff member
may feel demoralised or frustrated, which could impact future interactions with customers.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The reality is that most people aren’t really ‘difficult’ or ‘impossible to please’, they are just different.

The ability to neutralise conflict – before it even begins – and to see past a customer’s communication style to their true wants and needs are essential customer-service skills.

Solving the problem

Most customers are seeking help and guidance from a business’ staff.

They simply want to buy something or use a service to achieve their own goals, as well as identify the businesses and service staff that they can trust and rely upon in the future.

They don’t want a fight or to get into disagreements – that’s too stressful.

What reasonable person wants that?

One of the keys to creating a positive customer experience and sales environment is to enter each interaction with an open mind and an open heart, ready to listen to, understand, and help the other person.

We need to be able to discern what they are thinking, what they are feeling, and the action they want us to take.

An open mind involves thinking clearly and objectively about what the customer wants while looking past their method of communication.

An open heart requires empathising with their frustrations rather than reacting defensively.

Understanding emotions

Emotional literacy is the ability to read or recognise your own emotions and the emotions of others so that you can figure out what they are feeling.

It is different from emotional intelligence in that it emphasises love, co-operation, and the common good, which are ignored in definitions of emotional intelligence.

Regardless of how similar or different other people are to us, we can use effective human-centred communication skills, combined with emotional literacy, to discern what they want.

We need to listen and work with these three elements: thoughts, feelings, and actions.

When we communicate and work with people across these three dimensions, difficulties usually vanish, common ground is established, and solutions are found, which leads to great customer experiences.


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Sue Barrett

Contributor • Barrett

Sue Barrett is founder and CEO of innovative and forward-thinking sales advisory and education firm Barrett and online sales education platform Learn more:

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