The Art of Listening: Clarifying the conversation is key to a successful business

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Having just finished the big week of CinemaCon and now heading into our high season and a long list of upcoming trade events, it seems like one thing we could focus on is listening to our partners and customers. When you are at an event like CinemaCon, it can be hard to find focus amidst all the noise. But sometimes we just need to stop pushing our own agenda and listen to what someone else is saying.

The week in Vegas really kicks off a string of trade shows that are applicable to our industry. Beginning with several regional NATO shows such as Mid-Atlantic and moving into the National Restaurant show, May is busy. June is the time for ShowCanada and CineEurope, while July and August bring us the NAC Concession Expo, ShowSouth, and several more regional NATO shows. All of these shows are valuable and it would be tough to attend all of them, but choose a few and go. We have reviewed the benefits of attending trade events, but being with your business partners and finding time to really listen to them should be one of your most important goals

Be it vendor or exhibitor, listening to the companies who help us provide food and beverages to our customers gives us a large brain trust to utilize. When you only listen to yourself? Not so large. This is no offense to any one particular level of intelligence; it simply speaks to the value of many voices and many ideas that can ultimately produce better results.

There is an International Association of Listening which is focused on helping individuals refine the skill of listening. This is considered a necessary skill in business, but rarely do individuals actually spend any amount of formal training on it. It seems like something that would be intuitive, but after many conversations with people about their success, or disappointment, with their time in Vegas, I realized that we have become so busy in our schedules that we have a difficult time actually listening.

American Express sponsors a small business forum on many subjects, and it suggests “Five Ways to Master the Art of Listening”:

1. Forget Outdated Advice.

2. Interpret What You Hear.

3. Clarify What You Heard the Other Person Say.

4. Ask Open-Ended Questions.

5. Validate What You Heard.

Which one of these is your Achilles’ heel? I will cast the first stone at myself. Number three has been a personal project of mine for some time now. Turns out I really do need to be clarifying what someone is saying right then, when I don’t understand. I found that when I do this, I am actually listening and gaining much better perspective at the correct moment.

How many times do you go home from a trade event and try to remember: Did he actually commit to making that new food item for me or just seeing if it was feasible? Did I actually hear him right, is the plant truly going to shut down for the entire week of July 4th? This is when number five should kick in: Validate what you heard (or think you heard). Exhibitors and vendors must communicate effectively in the high season or things are absolutely going to fall through the cracks. This means you need to speak clearly, but it also means you must listen to your partners.

The flip side of this coin is listening to the actual customer. What is the customer telling us? This can be with words and surveys, of course. But the customer speaks volumes with what they buy and what they don’t. Trends tell us where their heads are, what they are interested in, and what they are willing to spend money on for themselves. Trending has become critical to the expected attendance for a film, which helps us forecast our inventory levels for food and beverage at the concession stand. The trending comes from social media which now drives this knowledge, and while the numbers are not always exact, we have learned to listen to them for a fairly close forecast.

The same is true regarding what the customer wants to see at the concession stand, as gauged by their purchase habits. They speak volumes and this is why food and beverage companies spend so much time and money to understand these habits. They tell us what customers want, and we have to listen. There are numerous organizations and publications dedicated to understanding customer trends and how they affect your business and there is no shortage for the cinema industry.

Make time to slow down long enough to act on number two referenced above: Interpret What You Hear. Our job is to combine customers’ needs with our ability to deliver them into a successful theatre business. Listening to our customers and partners is a big part of getting there. When we do this, the experience that is gained by all is positive. A successful sale of goods and services translates into a successful experience of the customer at the theatre and we all win.

Send your comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.