We learn how to speak, write and respond early on, but often the art of listening is left by the wayside. (Guest post)
Listening is important because it tells you a lot about your customers and your business. It doesn’t matter if you own a small business or a big company, when you hear what your customers want, need, like and yes, even dislike you can learn a lot and respond properly to be the best you can be. Without customers, there is no business. In today’s age with social media at everyone’s fingertips it is even more important to pay attention to those needs because bad reviews are just a click away. If your customers feel that they are being heard, they feel like you and your company care. Care about them as a person, not just someone who pays. Call center workforce management for example, is a great tool to help you along the way in terms of analyzing the data you collect throughout calls. It can help you get a better understanding of common customer complaints, wait times, staff response and even time management. To maximize your effectiveness you need to learn to listen to your customers.
The 5 Stages of listening
Receiving is the first stage of effective listening skills. It starts when you make the initial contact. Whether it is on the phone, in person or in a chat, there are a lot of cues you can pick up on. How is the tone, are they agitated, what are they really trying to communicate, is there an underlying message? If you see them in person, are there nonverbal cues like clenched fists, an angry face, or even a smiling relaxed pose? Over the phone you can pick up on the tone of voice, is the caller breathing heavily, and are they friendly yet snippy? If you only have a chat available, are they typing in all caps, are they using a lot of exclamation marks, do they seem sad? There are many things you can learn by fully focusing on the person you are helping in any setting. It is important that there is nothing that can distract you from receiving the message your customer is trying to convey. Let them speak without interruption and hear what is being said.
Understanding is the second step in effective listening. Here you or your agent needs to make sure you understand what you are hearing. You and your staff need to train yourself to not make assumptions or judgments about your customers’ message before you have a full picture. If you are unsure what the complaint or message is and don’t understand what it is that the customers wants, ask questions, clarify what is being said with “I-messages” like:
“ I hear you are having some difficulty with our service. I understand that this is frustrating and I am here to help you resolve the problem.” This shows the customer you care and are not blaming them.
The third step in effective listening is remembering. Often when customers are upset or worked up over something they hit the agent or customer service representative with an onslaught of information, all at once. Learning and teaching your team to take notes, to understand the true message of the caller is crucial to excellent service. Organizing the information in categories is a good way of staying on point throughout the conversation. If only half the message is remembered it is difficult to truly help the customer effectively.
Evaluating is the fourth step of the process and needs to be done with care. It is important to distinguish facts from biased opinions or statements colored by emotions. Here you take the facts only and figure out how you can fix what isn’t working. Training yourself and your team to listen for certain words or statements that indicate a bias or emotions at play can help steer the conversation the right way.
Responding is the end game of effective listening. Now is the time you take the first four steps and use what you have learned. As your conversation progresses, short acknowledgements are important like “I see”, “I understand” to let the customer know that you are paying attention. When you respond, look at your notes that you took during point three to make sure you are covering everything they need help with. Again, use “I-messages” and give an individualized answer to their individual need. “I am sorry you had a bad experience. I understand how frustrating that must be for you. Here is what I can do for you to rectify the situation right now.”
When you learn how to be an effective listener, you will learn how to be an effective communicator. Your responses will be more thoughtful and it will avoid unnecessary back and forth if you take the time to listen. This in turn improves productivity and cuts time spent with a given customer. While there are five steps to effective listening, they don’t happen back to back. You need to train yourself and your staff to make it second nature to employ all of these tactics the second communication with a customer starts. Your customers will thank you for hearing them and valuing their opinion and in turn your business will benefit in the long run.
About the author: Deanna Ayres is a Community Outreach Supervisor by day and Gamer by night. She specializes on a variety of topics like Call Center Workforce Management, Social Media Marketing and Mobile Enterprise Solutions. Growing up in Europe has allowed her a unique insight into cultural differences in the digital marketing world. She also believes that connecting on a personal level is vital to success so connect with her on twitter, share your thoughts and ideas because collectively, we can achieve greatness.