Teaching Customer Service Reps the Art of Listening

Is your customer service team as effective as it could be? Teach them how to listen to the customer to resolve the problem, and keep your business running smoothly.

Effective listening is perhaps the most valuable skill you can teach your Customer Service team. It is the linchpin in a needs-based, consultative service strategy that determines and delivers what the customer needs and wants.

Simply put, listening enables reps to draw customers into an interactive conversation in which they can ask perceptive questions, probe for reactions, and respond to those reactions appropriately.

But most people aren’t natural listeners, let alone trained in the art of listening. That’s probable because real listening involves letting go of ego—temporarily subjugating one’s own agenda in the interest of understanding another’s message. The fact is, however, that most of us either don’t hear the message at all, or hear it but misinterpret its meaning.

Listening can be especially, and understandably, difficult for Customer Service Reps because they are under pressure to handle a volume of calls, and therefore are concentrating on what they have to say next instead of paying close attention to what the customer is actually communicating. Nevertheless, there are techniques you can teach reps to use that will demonstrate real interest in the customer–an excellent way to establish rapport and a powerful form of communication.

Tips and Tactics

Listening involves several steps: hearing what is said; interpreting what it really means; and responding in a positive way that shows that the message has been understood and is considered important. There is virtually no better way to create a favorable impression than by showing others that you are interested in and value their opinions. Moreover, it is sometimes the only way you can elicit attitudes and discover needs–information that is crucial to satisfying the customer.

Here are some simple tactics for effective listening:

∆ Tune out distractions and focus on each call as if it were the most important of the day

∆ Concentrate on what the customer is saying rather than thinking about what YOU want to say

∆ Don’t interrupt; a customer’s willingness to talk, within a reasonable time period, represents a golden opportunity to find out the problem / situation

∆ Don’t jump to conclusions

∆ Become attuned to tone of voice and inflection; these can be as telling as the words themselves

∆ Occasionally repeat what the customer has said–it shows attention and comprehension

∆ Ask for clarification if a statement or objection is vague

∆ Create rapport by smiling (even in telephone sales a smile can be HEARD through the phone!)

∆ Take notes to be sure you remember the customer’s key points

∆ Be familiar with common questions and problems and practice responding in a natural, conversational manner

∆ Control your emotions and be courteous, no matter how rude the customer might be

∆ Continually evaluate whether you are asking the right questions to uncover and solve the problem

Other Management Tools

Managers who provide reps with good training and thorough preparation on how to provide excellent customer care will give reps the confidence to be extemporaneous–to listen and respond–without losing sight of the ultimate goal; to satisfy the customer. Teaching by example is, of course, a great way to make a point. Managers who listen to employee needs and encourage listening in staff meetings and informal group situations will help reinforce the value of this important skill.

Finally, keep in mind as you train your reps in the art of listening that the process requires not only strict attention to what is being said, but its nuances and innuendoes. The exceptional listener is one who has learned how to use intuition to sift through the verbiage, find the salient nuggets, and turn them to advantage.

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