Saturday, March 3, 2012

The art of listening

I saw this quote on Facebook today, it goes "you look but you don't see, you hear but you don't listen, you touch but you don't feel, you like me but you don't love me".

Haha. Sucks to be her. 

I agree with the second line. You hear but you don't listen. I encountered this experience yesterday with my supplier. All these while I learn how to communicate with customers, it's all about listening to what they really want. 

I sell outdoor furnitures. My supplier is a Frenchman, based in Philippines. Yesterday was my first encounter with him. English was tolerable. 

You see, in customized furniture business, lead time is generally about 2 to 3 months, especially on imported goods. It's all about the production, procurement and logistics in overseas. Add in the component "customize" for customers with funky demands, there is absolutely no rational probability of stocking the furnitures. Because, you see, customers always always want to change a little something that will make their furnitures unique, tailor made for them. How then, can you possibly store chairs or tables of an exact design? We have choices of colours, tones, weaving and sizes, which renders stocking hence eliminating the waiting time impossible. 

Wow, so boring. 

Anyway, the business I do is simple. I sell outdoor furnitures. 

But of course, that's what I tell my mother and what my customer sees.

Sometimes I tell that to my relatives on purpose to see my mother try and hide her face from the disapproving glances and sympathetic pat on the back they give me while looking at her. 

"Oh, you sell chairs. Like as in furnitures right? Okay.. Oh please take some more curry and tofu."

"Oh, so how is business?" *sympathetic pats on my back* - it's like a soothing one, top to bottom stroke.

"Wow! What a great job!" *looks around to find another more successful than me cousin, then ends the conversation by raising one hand, shouts the other cousin's name, and leaves (i.e. hey there's your cousin Ling! Ok bye)* 

"Like, as in permanent?" *looks in mother's direction as if asking - how can you approve of this?*

In reality, I sell, then I process the order.

Wow, so hardcore. 

The order goes to Philippines, that's the problem right there. For the past few shipping, the furnitures keep arriving wrong. I have a problem right there. Customers yells at me after paying 10k deposit for example, and waiting for more than 3 months. :(

Then yesterday, my boss told me to sit down with the supplier that came and visit, go through the problems. Basically, share with him a on how I get pissed on when I only manage to deliver a 6 seater dining table, with only 4 chairs because the other 2 pieces came in wrong. I was geared up and ready to fire.

First 10 minutes, he was looking through the order papers, comparing them to what was delivered, what went missing. While I was showing him orders from my customers, items that are missing, date ordered, money paid. I got frustrated.  

He struggled to explain himself for the mistakes, about how the weavers do their work, what is shown to them, what is not, what orders does he receive from us, what happens when he receives a purchase order from us. Hello? Why are you telling me that? I don't have to know how they weave the chair, just weave it right and send it here.

I didn't understand why is he telling me all these, then it hit me. 

Nobody listened. Nobody answers his questions, nobody updates him on what are our new collections. We just kept ordering and getting angry at the production. 

I felt a remorseful regret. I spent more than 30 minutes listening to him, taking down notes on the problems he is facing, in his factory, with the internet connection in Philippines,  the problems with hiring an additional staff, the high resolution images we send to him that he cannot download. 

He explained all in his thick french accent, it was a struggle, but I think he felt satisfied at the end of the conversation.

The experience was amazing. I'm pretty sure things will improve for better if these issues can be address from time to time. It'll take time, Rome was not built in a day.

Haha. I said something smart. 

Work is great, I am growing.