Effective communication cannot happen without attentive listening, making listening skills one of the most important fundamental components of customer service.
Customers today have more ways than ever to voice their wants, needs, and opinions to the companies they patronize, as well as to their fellow patrons. Customer service has expanded from sales floors and call centers to the digital cloud and social media spaces. Voice of the Customer tools like satisfaction surveys and comment cards also provide an outlet for customers to express whether their need for service is being met.
Across all of these platforms, no matter which one(s) a customer decides to use, their essential need to feel listened to remains the same. If they don’t feel listened to, they’re only a click away from Twitter, Yelp, and other public forums where they can make sure their voices are heard, and not always with the most flattering language.
Listening doesn’t just happen automatically. It requires active effort and attention. That’s what differentiates it from simply hearing. Fortunately, it’s a skill that can be trained, learned, practiced, and strengthened.
Tips for Becoming a More Skillful Listener
These basic tips apply to all customer service channels and deserve heavy emphasis in your employee training process.
Make a conscious decision to listen. Active listening is a choice, one that needs to happen at the beginning of every customer interaction. The minute you go on “auto-pilot,” communication suffers.
Let go of your own personal agenda. Focus your attention by clearing away all distractions or preconceived notions. If you’re not fully present, you open yourself up to miss key parts of the customer’s message.
Be curious. Try to see the issue, topic, or question at hand from the other person’s point of view. Ask questions that give the customer the opportunity to thoroughly explain or describe what it is they’re trying to convey.
Listen with your eyes. Look at the customer when they’re speaking, not at a computer screen, other people in the room, or your watch. Pay attention to all the visual clues that accompany a customer’s words, like body language and facial expressions. In text-based communication like email, italic and bold fonts and ALL CAPS serve a similar purpose (but can be more easily misconstrued, so use your judgement).
Be patient. Some people take longer to find the right words, to make a point, or to clarify an issue. Sometimes the impulse to “help” and finish their sentences or guess what they’re driving at can come across as a sign that you’re not actually listening to them, just trying to rush through the conversation.
Listen with respect. Listen to understand, not to judge. This means not just maintaining the right internal attitude, but paying attention to your own body language and nonverbal cues, watching out for things like eye-rolling, smirking or laughing at inappropriate moments, or fidgeting.
Maintain calm and manage your own emotions/reactions. You cannot listen if you are defensive or angry, or if you’re preoccupied by something going on in your personal life. Remember, this isn’t about you or your personal agenda, it’s about the customer. If you can’t put them first, you might be in the wrong job.
Listen for the whole message. Make sure you understand the entire message before you attempt to respond. If anything is unclear, try repeating the message back to the customer to make sure you understood them properly and are on the same page.
CSP is listening, too! If you have questions about customer service skills, or a story of really effective (or hilariously awful) listening experiences, leave a comment or Tweet us at @CSProfiles.
This post is adapted from an article in STARS, our exclusive library of customer experience management resources. CSP clients can download training material, exercises, and articles written around specific customer experience dilemmas and solutions from STARS. Learn more.