Effective Communication Skills: Active Listening

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Most times companies hire staff, train them on Customer Service and deploy them to the field to carry out their various service functions, without giving appropriate attention to the very essential Customer Service skill of Listening.

Listening, constitutes a great portion of our interaction with Customers, one would have to listen very actively in order to understand what a Customers really wants. Yet most of the time people confuse ‘hearing’ with ‘listening’ and fail to realize that they have completely different meanings.
Hearing is simply the ability to perceive sounds or auditory signals, whereas Listening involves hearing + correctly interpreting the intended meaning(s) of the message transferred by the sender.

The ability to listen actively means;

    Messages (enquiries/complaints) are better understood – thus they can be handled more efficiently
    Communication breakdowns between Customers and Service reps are mitigated – this will give your brand the perception of having a smart work force and thus improves the confidence a Customer has in your ability to solve problems.
    Improved Customer Satisfaction – When Customers have their enquiries clarified or complaints effectively resolved, they feel satisfied with your services and this does wonders to brand perception.
    Fewer mistakes occur – Communication breakdown most times leads to mistakes, which might lead to a waste of resources (human & material), when staff are trained to listen properly, such mistakes won’t occur as often.
    Improved productivity – Time wasted in remediating errors from communication breakdown or resources wasted due to such errors impacts negatively on the overall productivity of a company or specific unit.

How can they Listen effectively you ask?
Listening effectively is something that can be learned, teach your staff to do the following and in time effectively listening would be a part of them:

  • Always Put the Speaker at Ease – People are they are more likely to give more detailed descriptions or narrations in a relaxed state. A customer who is giving a complaint whilst standing may skip some details (sub consciously), to hasten the conclusion/resolution of the issue and to lessen the time spent standing on their feet, whereas those details left out might be crucial in resolving or understanding the message.
    Is there an available seat? Offer the Customer seat & lean forwards the speaker (not in an eerie manner), this enables you to hear better & shows you are eager to hear what the Customer has to say.
  • Don’t Talk, Just Listen – This means you don’t you interrupt, finish sentences or put words into the speaker’s mouth, a simple nod here and there to show you’re paying attention would suffice, until the speaker has finished communicating. If you didn’t quite get the message, avoid asking the speaker to repeat what they had just said, instead try paraphrasing what you heard, its less irritating and it shows the speaker that you actually paid attention
    E.g. “Sir, If I’m correct, you’d like to exchange your…” or “You would like us to migrate your new account to ___ is that correct?”.
  • Keep Your Focus on the Speaker – While listening to someone (Customer) speaking to you physically, keep your Focus on them, eliminate distracting thoughts or actions (fiddling with objects, or shuffling through documents), maintain eye contact and don’t stare unnecessarily at other things as that may distract the speaker, instead pay attention to cues like facial expression & voice tone, as they’ll give you additional data to effectively decipher what the speaker is really trying (or not trying) to say, as well as their emotional state.
    When you are listening to someone speaking on the phone, make use of filler words like “I see”, “Alright” “mm hmm”, just to let the speaker know you’re still on the line and that you’re paying attention, sometimes shutting your eyes can aid you listen better, try scribbling down keywords to enable you build a clearer picture of the message.
  • Empathize – As the other person speaks, try and see things from their perspective, let go of any bias and remain open minded, this way, you’ll be in a better position to understand what the speaker is trying to say, & If you disagree with something that is said, wait until the speaker finishes, then you can counter argue in a polite, constructive manner.
  • Be Patient – Patience is another important Service skill, let the speaker communicate at their own pace, some people take longer to construct their sentences, DO NOT interrupt or finish sentences for people when they speak or you’d risk jumping to the wrong conclusion, instead encourage the person to speak with nods and gestures.

    Try as much as possible to avoid getting irritated by; the speaker’s accent, speech pace, mannerisms or habits that might distract you from essence of the message being communicated.

  • As you actively practice these steps over time, you’d become better and more proficient at listening, people will find easier to communicate to you and you’ll discover that the Listening skill, is important not just in Customer Service but in interpersonal relationships as well.

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