There is a noticeable difference between someone who’s listening to you and someone who’s only really hearing you. Someone who is listening to you is actively engaged in what it is you’re trying to say and is seeking to understand your point. On the other hand, when it comes to someone who simply hears you speaking, well—your words are merely background noise to them. Often, however, we aren’t intentionally disregarding people’s words. Rather, we get carried away with whatever it is we want to respond with, or we get distracted by our own thoughts. Nonetheless, neither of these habits excuses poor listening.
Effective listening is a useful ability to have in any scenario; nevertheless, it is a particularly valuable skill to put into effect when it comes to helping customers on the phone. Callers can certainly tell whether the listener on the other end of the line is truly concerned with what they’re saying or if he/she is preoccupied with something else. In this blog, tips to be a better listener will be explored, which will inevitably improve customers’ experience of your business altogether.
Center Your Attention on the Customer
It is necessary that you center your attention on the message of the customer, despite the conversations happening around you, your own thoughts and opinions about the customer on the line, and the whirrs of various machines in your office. Communication without distraction is rare, and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to achieve in today’s day and age. Stand out as a listener by minimizing the attention you pay to everything else and increasing the attention you pay to the customer on the line. To minimize distractions, you can:
- Put your personal cell phone away.
- Sit in a space by yourself, or at least by others who are focused on their work.
- Make it a point to focus on the message of the customer, not your own thoughts surrounding their person or their tone.
In doing this, you’ll be able to better focus on the customer’s message and avoid asking later for information that the customer already gave you.
Prioritize the Customer’s Words Over Your Own
Do not assume the customer’s situation based off the first few words of their story, and do not interrupt them when they’re speaking. It’s highly likely that an answer to a question you eventually have to ask them will be mentioned in their own words. Listen to them and remember their answer without having to ask them again later! By giving the customer the opportunity to speak, he/she will feel more confident that their point was heard and understood. All in all, prioritizing the customer’s words over your own can make communication more efficient, as the customer just might tell you everything you need to know in one fell swoop.
Unfortunately, even after you’ve listened well to the customer on the line, the occasional caller will start going on about things that don’t pertain to the call, and sometimes, an overload of information becomes a distraction in and of itself. When this happens:
- Simply say “excuse me,” and ask for clarification about any gaps in important information that the customer left out.
- Politely redirect their attention to the issue at hand.
This shows that you’re listening to them and not just tuning them out, and it also shows that you’re making it a priority to help them out.
Once the customer has finished telling their side of the story, ask clarifying questions about everything they told you. This lets them know that you were truly listening to them and that you are interested in more details on the matter.
This is also your opportunity to ask about anything you need to know that the customer didn’t mention. By asking additional questions, it shows that you have concern for the customer and want to understand their situation in its entirety. Questions to ask that show you’re listening vary based on the topic, but can include:
- “Is it an internal ache you’re feeling in your head, or an outside pain possibly caused by something else?”
- “Do you know exactly how long your thermostat has been running improperly for?”
- “When you said……. what did you mean?”
Reflect on Previous Conversations
As is the case with learning any new skill, it is important to learn from your mistakes! Practicing effective listening is no exception to that rule. As you take more calls from customers, make it a point to reflect on previous conversations. Ask yourself:
- Did you speak more than you allowed the customer to?
- Did you have to ask the customer to repeat his/herself because you were distracted?
- Did the questions you ask pertain to the customer’s situation?
There are plenty of questions you could ask yourself to reflect on your listening skills, and it’s important to be honest with yourself as you answer them. Ultimately, don’t beat yourself up over the mistakes you made. After all, a mistake is only truly a mistake if you don’t learn from it!
Effective listening is a skill that takes time to develop. It requires minimizing distractions, prioritizing the caller’s words over your own, and asking clarifying questions, none of which can be perfected overnight! Overtime and with cognizance of the ways you listen, these things will slowly become more natural to you when you’re on the phone with customers. If you’re interested in more information about effective listening, click here.