We spend around 45% of our time each day listening. That’s right–almost half of our waking hours are spent receiving information from someone else. We spend more time listening than we do reading, writing, or speaking. Active listening has been proven to improve customer satisfaction and relations, but active listening doesn’t always come naturally. You can train yourself to listen actively, and you can train your customer service team to listen actively, too.
In this post, we’ll talk about how you can use active listening to improve customer service and the benefits of doing so.
First, what is active listening?
Active listening (v): Communicating so that the speaker feels understood and respected; reduces instances of miscommunication and conflict
You’ll find longer, more in-depth definitions of active listening, but essentially, it’s the process of making the person speaking to you feel heard. You already know that your customers want to feel understood and respected by your company sans miscommunication and conflict. Now, let’s cover the ways you can implement active listening in your customer service.
Active listening to improve customer service
Active listening involves 3 steps: Focus, Listen, and Clarify. We’ll talk about each of these in more detail and how you can use active listening to improve your customer service efforts.
The attention should be on the customer completely. Through your customers’ perspective, the problem they are currently dealing with is their primary focus. It’s occupying their attention right now, and that means it should occupy your customer service rep’s attention too.
But what if the exchange is taking place over the phone? Doesn’t that make it harder to focus or be empathetic? Sure, but most customer service takes place online or on the phone. There’s a trick to focusing on the customer when they aren’t in front of you: Picture sitting across a table from them.
What facial expressions would accompany their words? How would you two be interacting? Picturing your conversation will help you be more empathetic and remain focused on the problem at hand.
We listen all the time, but listening isn’t the same as active listening–it’s just one of the 3 steps involved. Active listening also includes the components of focus and clarity. So what are you listening for in a customer service interaction?
First, you should look for the key information the caller or customer is coming to you to get help with. What is the gist of their situation? You need to ask! Your customer service team has a lot more experience with the problems your customers have than the customers themselves.
If you train your team or yourself to listen closely for key information from customers, you will be able to help even if the customer is unsure of what they need or how to fully describe the problem. That’s a benefit for your customer and results in a more positive experience with your company!
Second, you should listen to determine the customer’s mood or feelings. You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to know that a caller is short for time, very upset, or easy-going and patient. Their words, diction, tone, and cadence will all be hints that point to their current mood or feelings toward your business.
If you’re faced with a customer who’s in a hurry and is impatient, noticing that fact and speaking about it can boost your customer satisfaction. Use phrases that support whatever you’re noticing about the customer’s feelings or situation, like “We know you’re busy and your time is valuable, so we’ll work through this as quickly as possible.” The caller will appreciate that you get where they’re coming from and are “on their side.” This is one more way you can use active listening to improve customer service.
Clarification is the most important step in active listening. This is the step that minimizes miscommunication and even has the potential to head off conflict. It helps the customer feel heard and better understood, and it helps your customer service team fully understand the problem at hand, resulting in a better experience for everyone.
Clarification is easy. You simply paraphrase (summarize and rephrase) what the customer has communicated to you. It may feel unnatural at first, but you will learn to make it sound more conversational as you see how well it works.
Here’s an example of a customer service interaction using active listening:
Customer: When I try to add item #3454 to my shopping cart, I get an error message that says No Longer Available. What is going on?
Customer service: So, when you try to add this item to your cart, you’re getting a pop-up error message that says the item is no longer available, is that correct?
Customer: Yes, but the page still says there are 3 items left in stock.
Customer service: Okay, so although the website shows 3 of the item left in stock, it’s still giving the error message that the item is no longer available. Is that right?
Customer: Yes, that’s right. I just want to order the item. What’s going on?
Customer service: I understand, and I apologize for the difficulty you’re having on our website. Our website inventory is experiencing issues, and our team is fixing it now. What I can do is go ahead and complete your order now over the phone, and let you know via a text or email notification when the website is functional again later this afternoon. Would that be alright?
By restating (in different words) what the customer is having trouble with, the customer feels understood and confident that the customer service rep fully understands the problem and what actions need to be taken to fix it.
You can begin to use active listening to improve customer service efforts today. Remembering the 3 steps of active listening is easy: Focus, Listen, and Clarify (you can remember this as FLaC).