The value of listening cannot be overestimated. However, listening involves more than simply hearing the words the customer says. Developing the skills of active listening makes sure that you not only hear the words your customers say, but that you understand your customers’ concerns on a deeper level. Here are the different aspects of active listening:
- Use (minimal) encouragers. Encouragers are short words or phrases that indicate to a speaker that you are paying attention to what they are saying. Words, phrases, and sounds such as Yes, Uh huh, Go on, Mmm, So what happened next? etc. encourage speakers to continue speaking. It is possible to overdo this, and when you overdo it, you can give the impression that you are actually not listening, or, at the very least, you run the risk of disrupting communication through interruption.
- Repeat key phrases. This is another way to encourage speakers to continue and to make them feel heard. Here’s an example: the speaker says, “Yesterday, I went to the store to buy a loaf of bread.” The listener can combine a repetition of a key phrase with an encourager, “A loaf of bread. Okay, go on.”
- Paraphrase and summarize the speaker’s key points. So what I’m hearing you say is …
- Offer empathy, but make sure it is genuine. That must have been really tough or I can see why you would be angry.
- Stay in the moment and listen fully. It might be tempting to interrupt because you’ve anticipated what else the customer is going to say. Keep in mind, however, that while you may have heard the same issue over and over from different customers, your interaction with this customer is a unique experience with a unique individual. Even if they say and do the same things exactly like what everyone else has throughout the day, they may need to fully articulate their experience in order to feel heard.
- Listening fully also involves taking note of volume and tone of voice and pace of speech. These indicate the emotional state of your customer. Higher volume, tone, and pace indicate an arousal emotion, enthusiasm, perhaps, but also anger, frustration, or anxiety. Context matters.
- Keeping a pen and pad of paper handy to write down any questions or thoughts you might have can counter the temptation to formulate a response as the speaker is talking. However, this can take you out of the immediate moment, and out of actually listening to the customer. Use this strategy sparingly when an issue is particularly complex. Think of it as taking notes on what the speaker is telling you.
- Probe with open ended questions. Open ended questions are the opposite of close-ended questions, which can be answered in a word. For example, Were you able to login? (close ended question with a yes/no answer) vs When you entered your username and password and hit enter, what did the screen show? (open ended question with a more involved answer).
- Be genuine. Active listening is not about using vocal and communication tricks to give the illusion that you care. Active listening means you are fully present in the interaction and that you truly care about what the customer is going through.