“I just want to be heard.”
When I work with clients whose customers are the community, this is a phrase I’ve heard far too often from residents. For retail businesses and other industries where there are many choices, often customers will take their business elsewhere instead of complaining. But with government services, there’s often only one place to go for a particular service – the government.
Residents understand that when there are issues, a local municipality won’t be able to offer a gift card or a 10% discount on the next purchase. Residents understand that a complaint won’t result in some compensation or possibly even a fix. So, what do residents want? Many just want to be heard.
Usually when a resident is venting to me about a government client, when they say that they want to be heard, they’re typically referring to two things: The attitude and the action. A listening attitude is conveyed when the employee is focused on them, the employee is patient about the issue, doesn’t interrupt, and is empathetic and understanding about the situation. Residents want to know you understand what’s unique about them, possibly by stating the situation back to them. And they want the body language and the tone to reflect that listening orientation.
But being heard also can imply action. Maybe the employee said all the right things in the right way to the customer, but if the employee does nothing with the information, often residents interpret that inaction as not being heard.
Now, taking action doesn’t necessarily mean resolving the issue. But at least investigate it further. Ask a co-worker for advice. Suggest an alternative solution. Let them know you’ll share the concern with leaders so that similar situations don’t happen to others. Tell them what they could do in the future so that the situation won’t arise again. And if you did something for them, tell them that you did it. They won’t know you took action until you tell them you did so.
Many complaining customers just want to be heard, and not until they feel that they have been heard do they believe that you care.
Convey you care by conveying you heard them with your attitude and action.