Customer service success should be a primary goal for everyone in an organization. Since there is no organization without satisfied customers, making sure that they are understood and served effectively should be a strategic initiative. That means taking service down to a basic level with each encounter when someone comes into or contacts the organization. An easy way to help accomplish this is by training all employees to use of active listening during face-to-face and telephone interactions with customers.
Like other customer service skills, active listening is a learned process. Many people think that because they receive a message through hearing, that they are listening. This is far from true. Hearing is a simple physiological process of gathering sounds through the ear and transmitting them to the brain for analysis. Receiving sounds or messages is just the first step in active listening. Following the receipt of sounds or messages, the brain decides what they mean and what type of response (or inaction) is required.
Active listening is actually one of the most important skills that customer service representatives have for delivering stellar customer service. Even so, it is a topic on which many organizations fail to train employees. Many managers and employees assume that they know how to effectively listen. In reality, only through understanding the active listening process and practicing the skill can customer service representatives improve.
Following are three simple active listening steps that you take to help achieve customer service success.
1. Focus attention on the customer. Stop whatever you are doing that does not relate to serving the customer with you or on the other end of the phone call. This means putting down any technology you are using, stop typing on your computer, putting aside reading material, and really focusing on the customer and what he or she is saying.
2. Display a congenial demeanor. Simply put, this means smiling (even on the phone, since the smile comes through in your tone), looking at the customer as you speak to one another, nodding appropriately, using open physical posture and gestures appropriately and letting them know that you are really listening to what they are saying.
3. Repeat back what you understood them to say. This simple active listening technique involves restating what your customer said in your own words. For example, if a customer said, “I am really upset because I’ve called twice before about this problem and I still have not received the information I was promised.” In response, you should apologize and emphasize, then repeat what you believe the issue to be before proceeding. For example, “I apologize that you have to keep following up on this issue. I know that must be very frustrating and is a waste of your time. If I understand correctly, you called two of our representatives in the past and were promised ____, but have yet to receive it? Is that correct?” Once they verify, state that you are going to take action to help resolve the issue for them. By taking this approach, you acknowledge and empathize with your customer. You also take responsibility for the situation and promise to correct it.
Active listening is not difficult, but it does take effort to learn and practice in order to perfect. While you may not get it right every time, you should work to incorporate it as a basic skill in order to achieve customer service success.
For additional ideas on how to improve your active listening skills and better service your customers, search the topic on this blog. Also, check out Customer Service Skills for Success and How to Be a Great Call Center Representative.