micelab:experts III – “Straight talking: How to make communication with the customer work”
Industry experts from the Lake Constance region get to the bottom of the problem by analysing concrete examples
What’s important for good communication with customers? This question was debated by 65 MICE industry experts at the third session of the micelab:bodensee training platform, which was held at Bodenseeforum Konstanz from 6 to 8 November. Sharing personal experience intensively and conducting live discussions with customers, the participants came to the realisation that the best basis for effective communication is: active listening, frankness, and personal interaction.
The participants at the third micelab:experts session – held at Bodenseeforum Konstanz (in Constance) – were able to practise communication with real customers about concrete events. Two representatives of Marketing Tourismus Konstanz GmbH were on hand to simulate customer dialogues with the MICE industry experts. The aim was to find out what the customers needed for their event in order to be able to advise them well.
“It’s always the inner attitude that interests us. At micelab:experts we posed the concrete questions: How can I really get through personally to customers? How do I create a basis of trust conducive to good cooperation?” explains Gerhard Stübe, spokesperson for the network BodenseeMeeting and executive director of Kongresskultur Bregenz.
The 65 event organisers collected experience from their everyday working lives. Eight storytellers reported to their respective groups about successful and less successful events. The listeners focused the attention in each case on the reason why: “Why did something not go right? What omissions or misunderstandings were there between the storyteller and the customer? Alternatively: What went well and consequently led to the successful outcome?” says curator Tina Gadow, explaining the approach.
Personal interaction allows empathy
The first important result that the interviewers were able to apply directly in the two discussions with customers was that personal interaction is essential if one is to perceive the customer with all one’s senses. “This makes empathy possible. We can relate to our interlocutor then and better understand their needs and wishes as well as their worries and anxieties” – is how one of the participants summed it up.
A mandate to advise
During their deliberations together the experts realised how important it is to secure the consent of the customer: in other words, to obtain a mandate for consultancy services. “This is what you might call the central question of micelab:bodensee. Do we want to continue to be ‘just’ service providers or do we want to give advice to customers to a greater degree? For that, a mandate is necessary,“ says Michael Gleich, also curator and moderator of micelab:bodensee, putting it in a nutshell. The open question of whether one can put forward alternatives – i.e. give advice – is one that frequently prompts discussion.
Good mutual understanding is based upon unbiased, active listening. The use of question techniques – for example paraphrasing – makes the partner in dialogue feel understood and gives them time and leisure to mull over their own thoughts. “This can allow new things to come about, without the ‘host’ trying to influence the customer or push them in a different, perhaps unwanted direction by expressing an opinion,” Tina Gadow points out.
Transparent and honest communication
Another thing that creates trust is when the host knows the capabilities and the limitations of the venue and speaks about them with complete frankness. If, on top of that, the event organiser is able to suggest a few alternative solutions, that also contributes to a good cooperative atmosphere. It’s also helpful to know the customer’s “acupuncture points”. As Tina Gadow emphasises, “only when we really (want to) understand a customer’s concerns can we find solutions”.
Last but not least it’s important to trust one’s gut feeling. This was a further finding of the session. “Empathy generates a resonance, in the body too. Best of all, you feel what matters to your interlocutor. Actually articulating this feeling then can take a little courage, but mostly it helps the dialogue take a constructive course,” Tina Gadow reports.
The fourth micelab:experts session will be held at Milchwerk Radolfzell from 5 to 7 March 2018. For more information please visit www.micelab-bodensee.com.
Photos: micelab:bodensee/Michael Gleich