Listening skills will transform your customer service

Can you hear me?

Listening skills will transform your customer service


After you’ve greeted your customers, listen to them!

It sounds obvious, but it can be hard to remember in the moment: each customer has their own, unique needs. Although this call will probably just be one of the many that you answer, it's often that customer’s only call, and probably their first direct contact with your organization. Even if the customer’s problem is not unique, this person is.

So listen with your full attention. Put other thoughts out of your head and focus just on the person speaking to you. Quickly judge their mood so you can best help them. If they are chatty, you may have to sort through irrelevant details to hone in on the specific reasons for the call. If they are struggling, they may be confused, shy or even embarrassed about their lack of knowledge about something. Supply information tactfully. Use your customer’s responses to figure out how much information to provide.

As you listen, make short, affirming statements to let the customer know you are listening attentively. You could say something as simple as, “Right… Yes… I see… I understand…. I am taking notes, so please continue.” Even “Uh huh” works!

Speaking of notes, It's often a good idea to take notes while the customer speaks. This keeps you focused on listening. It also provides a reference if the customer calls back. If your organization provides it, use contact management software to document the call so that you and others on your network can easily reference what was discussed in future dealings with the customer. In subsequent calls, the customer will appreciate—and may even be surprised by—the personal touch that comes from acknowledging previous interactions.

We’re all human and mistakes can happen. If you do forget something the customer already told you, it’s best to acknowledge that when asking them to repeat themselves: “I’m sorry, may I ask for your name again?” “I apologize, I must have made a mistake on your customer number. May I please have that again?”

And if you are having a hard time understanding the customer, bring that out into the open rather than risk getting the wrong information. Try something like, “I’m sorry, but I think we have a bad connection. May I please get your number and try giving you a call back?” Or if they have an accent that you have trouble understanding, try “I’m sorry, would you please say that again more slowly?”

It also helps to restate what you have heard to make sure you heard it right. Instead of jumping to conclusions about what the customer needs or wants, ask clarifying questions any time you think you may not have the whole picture.

Use the right kind of question, depending on what you need to know. “Open-ended” questions help you dig for more information. These are questions that start with words that probe for details. Examples of probing words are “Which? How? Who? What? Where? Why? When?”



Here is an example of an open-ended question offered in the video training program: Which changes would you like us to make to this policy?

Other examples of open-ended questions might be:
  • “How does the car respond when you put it into reverse?”
  • “When did you first notice the water leak behind your washing machine?”
  • “What terms did you expect to see on your first quarterly invoice?”
  • “Where does it hurt?”
The other kind of question is closed-ended. These are used when you need to move more quickly, focus the conversation or draw it to a close. These are questions that offer a simple choice, or require a yes-or-no answer.

Here are examples of closed-ended questions offered in the video: Did you receive the premium statements we sent last week? (yes/no). Would you like to continue to receive those by mail or would you prefer email? (simple choice).

Other examples of closed-ended questions might be:
  • “Do you hear a clunking sound when you shift gears?”
  • “Is tomorrow morning at 10:00 a good time for our technician to stop by?”
  • “Would you prefer a 10% discount or a year’s free maintenance?”
  • “Did you take your temperature?”
The truth is, it isn't hard to be a skilled listener, but like anything worth doing, it does take deliberate practice. Remember:
  • Listen with your full attention
  • Make short, affirming statements
  • Take notes
  • Restate what you have heard
  • Use open or closed-ended questions as appropriate
Good listening skills are key to not wasting the customer’s time—or your own. Get the information you need quickly and efficiently. Being a truly effective listener means keeping distractions to a minimum — and giving the person you are listening to your complete and undivided attention.

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