On the Importance of Listening

Minimal effort for maximum experience

January 19, 2017

We're moving to a new apartment in London. The reason is quite simple. Our current one bedroom flat isn't big enough for the Stoller Stroller Project.

While Craigslist may be the go-to site for finding an apartment in the US, things are a bit different in the UK. There are certainly a lot of sites with rental listings, but most of them are connected to estate agencies. These agencies and their agents work with tenants to find rental properties. When this process works, it's fantastic. However, most of the time, it's a struggle filled with emails, phone calls, and a complete lack of listening.

The initial interaction with an estate agent is all about requirements. Things like maximum monthly budget, square footage, number of bedrooms, location, and floor level (some tall buildings don't have a lift) are discussed. These details (in theory) make it easier for estate agents to find an apartment that matches up with your stated requirements. Easy, right?

Last week I had a call with an agent about our apartment requirements. He asked the right questions in terms of everything that we might need/require and I gave him the answers that I had already shared with half a dozen other agents. Literally five minutes after our call he sent me an email with some properties to view. None of the flats matched up with what we had just talked about. I was bemused and sent a response email asking if he had sent an incorrect email. He assured me that these apartments fit the bill. It was laughable.

Fast forward to this week and this exact type of encounter has happened again and again. The estate agents we have been dealing with have been terrible at listening. We're customers and it's their job to listen. That's it. We say this much money or space or rooms and they send us matches. However, it's been unbelievable how bad the listening has been. As customers, we can't stand poor customer service and on multiple occasions, we've stopped talking to certain agencies. Now, I realize that US customer service and UK customer service aren't the same thing. I get it. But, listening is so important, especially when you're in a service-oriented role.

When I was an academic advisor, I would often meet with 12 students per day via 30 minute increments. A large part of the job was to listen. You never wanted a student to say (or feel) that they weren't listened to.

Listening requires minimal effort and yet it's part of maximizing the student experience in an advising appointment or in any other student services/support/success interaction for that matter. Bad experiences due to lack of listening can have a cumulative effect on a student's entire university journey. Students should always feel/think/know that they are being heard.

Obviously, listening is connected to quality communication. If you're interacting with a student face-to-face, take a moment (or two) to clarify anything that you've heard that needs to be addressed. Also, take notes (especially if you're on the phone). Note-taking is an important add-on to listening.

Additionally, we've all experienced interactions with people via social media and/or email who seem to have trouble with "listening" even when content is transmitted via a semi-permanent digital transcript.

Take time to understand what students are saying/writing so that you can have the best possible response.


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