Understand your customers through Active Listening

“So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it”. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Active Listening as mentioned in the quote is the key to getting customer service right each time. When companies and their representatives engage in active listening, and not just hearing, they would be better equipped to accurately hear and translate the message the customers are trying to convey. Customers may or may not be masters at communication and most often expect that despite their hurried messages the company is able to ‘hear’ what they are not saying. Their tone, expressions and body language would be conveying what they want to say. When active listening is part of how customer service representatives and other members of a company are expected to communicate, it reduces customer effort to a large extent. Low customer effort translates to high customer satisfaction and with time, customer loyalty.

Without being equipped with this ability it would be almost impossible for companies to raise their customer service standards and instead would lead to breakdown in communication with customers and within the company. A feeling of not being heard and understood is not easily accepted by customers and companies will soon face an uprising of frustrated and even angry customers. The good news is that this can be easily avoided by investing time and money in providing consistent training for the development of this skill. There are many great courses and agencies providing active listening skills training, so there really is no excuse for companies that fail in this area. In fact many experts state, and we tend to agree, that active listening is the basis of all human interactions and relationships and can greatly improve the chances of success.

We are quite certain that we all find it very difficult to bear someone who is constantly bragging and or talking about themselves and is practically ‘deaf’ to the needs and even opinions of others. Those who have developed active listening skills have a larger circle of friends and this in turn leads to enhanced self-confidence. People are prone to trust someone who can first listen and understand without trying to push their views across. Active listening helps students get better grades and feel better about themselves and family members can reduce strife and friction within the family by listening. Is it any wonder then that ‘good listener’ as one of the personal attributes, finds its way on so many resume?

People often say “I can hear you” but that is a mistake. Hearing and listening are not the same things. Hearing is referring to the ‘sounds’ coming out from someone’s mouth, but listening is when there is focus on the meaning and feelings in those ‘sounds’. An active listener would be able to understand a lot more about what is being said since they would focus on ‘how’ it is being said and this is what is crucially required in customer service. Being able to understand and make complete sense of what the customer is conveying by looking beyond just the words. It is easy for customer service staff, sales persons and other front-ending staff to become entirely focused on the company and brand they represent and miss the cues being provided by customers. Not great communication from a customer’s point of view since they ‘expect’ each time that what they are saying is comprehended and translated to action without much effort on their part. Having great processes, products and or service, will lead to nothing if each customer experience seems void of feeling and actual active listening. Do companies and their representatives know what it means to actively listen?

Active listening involves focusing (literally) on the person communicating. Listening for vital information, feelings and then repeating (verbatim where possible) your understanding of what they just said. When you repeat the information back to the customer so accurately, you can be sure that you have a customer who will be willing to listen to you. Active listening reduces the number of errors and forges bonds since the customer would be able to see you as someone who understands them and therefore can be trusted. What better way to provide great customer service and gain customer loyalty? Make no mistake – customers pick up on the slightest good and negative portions of service and active listening certainly gets extra good attention. Let’s look at the steps that companies can follow to demonstrate that they are ‘listening’ to the customer:

– Customer focus

Complete and unwavering attention to a customer from the beginning to the end of the interaction would translate to customer focus. Active listening must be practiced especially with speaking to customers over the phone by imagining that the customer is sitting right in front of you. Would you not then pay attention to more than just the words – tone, expressions, kinds of words being used, pitch of voice – to engage in active listening.

– Listening to identify vital information

When the aim is to listen to everything the customer is conveying, the customer service staff is able to quickly grasp the customer’s needs thus eliminating the requirement for the customer to repeat what they said. This allows quicker resolution and reduces the amount spent on each call making the agent more effective and productive.

– The communication from the customer will be rife with feelings, especially when there is a problem. Active listening involves listening for those feelings.

The customer is feeling a certain way because of the problem. If the customer service representative is able to eliminate those negative feelings by active listening, a big chunk of the problem would disappear. The customer would feel more at ease and be in a better frame of mind to listen to what the agent is saying and even accept the time-frame suggested by the agent in which to have the problem resolved. Reassuring and making the customer feel like they are speaking to a friend is key element of customer service and is brought about by active listening.

– The final step is to repeat your understanding of what the customer said.

Only when the agents have been actively listening can they repeat their understanding of the customer’s communication back. An accurate understanding will forge a relationship while an error ridden understanding could take the customer from being frustrated to extremely angry. They can immediately perceive that the agent was not really listening and it makes them feel cheated and it would have been a waste of their time. This is a big no-no in the realm of customer service. Active listening is not difficult if you have the passion and right attitude.
Customers will notice – whatever a company and its representatives do with respect to dealing with them. Efforts to build a rapport, effectively resolve issues, genuine listening to remove obstacles and the converse of all these will be and are picked up by the customer. All customer service agents and staff members must be equipped with the right tools, techniques and attitudes of being able to service the customer as the customer wants. The customer will notice the good behavior and reward the company with increased revenue and productivity. Isn’t that what running a business is all about?

Everyone is capable of listening and being effective through listening right. Active listening is a conscious effort made towards making the person, in this case the customer, feel special and important. Active listening cannot be successful if done without thinking. It requires the person who is listening, to process what is being said and the information being provided, and translating it to mean exactly what is being conveyed, with and without actual words. The more proficient the customer service staff is in active listening, the better equipped they will be in understanding the customer and raising the standards of customer service to excellence. Understanding the customers equals happy and loyal customers.

“If you spend more time asking appropriate questions rather than giving answers or opinions, your listening skills will increase” – Brian Koslow

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