As a training professional for almost 30 years, I’ve observed that successful customer service representatives employ a technique known as active listening to get accurate customer information. Attentively paying attention to a speaker allows the listener to fully comprehend a message. It also allows you to gather additional information from the customer by asking relevant questions.
Active listening enables you to avoid jumping to hasty conclusions, solving the wrong problem or causing more harm. Maintain objectivity to keep the customer focused on their issue. Sometimes exercising patience gives the customer time to explain their problem. Showing empathy allows you to show that you care about the customer’s issue. Then, the customer can relax and share the critical details with you.
You are probably already practicing active listening to some degree. Successful customer representatives know that the best way to establish rapport with customers is to avoid making assumptions, confirm statements, clarify understanding, reiterate and paraphrase the speaker’s key points, and summarize the main points to conclude the conversation.
Disengagement occurs when customers fail to connect. If a customer asks you to repeat a statement, list the main points of your presentation or you end up doing most of the talking, you might not be giving the customer an opportunity to talk.
Learn to spot outward signs of engagement, such as head nodding, verbal agreement and occasional affirmation) and recognize disengagement, including doodling, reading email on a laptop or phone and other displays of disinterest or dissatisfaction.
Active listening techniques allow you to ask questions that reveal a customer’s unstated motivations, desires or concerns. Unarticulated needs often go unmet by customer service representatives who don’t practice active listening and know how to solicit information in a proactive way. Potentially unmet needs can prove disastrous later on. Be sure to ask questions at the right level. If you are talking to an executive, don’t ask close-ended questions that might reveal your ignorance about your company’s dealings with the customer. Do your research in advance. The goal of active listening is to find out details that aren’t published elsewhere.
To practice active listening, work with a partner, complete free self-assessments or participate in groups that encourage presentation rehearsal, feedback, repetition and revision. Role-playing exercises enable you to perfect your technique and develop your skills in listening carefully to solve customer problems.