The Art & Skill Of Customer Listening: session 2


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Welcome to another in the series on Customer Listening!

The first post set the overall context. It also provided the first listening challenge to test your own level of skill. If you have yet to read this introduction then I suggest doing that first before continuing.

What Is Listening?

But if you are ready, let’s dive in the deep end and move further into the topic by getting clear what listening actually is. The obvious place to start is with a definition. So who is the authority in this space? Unsurprisingly they are called the International Listening Association (ILA) who define listening as:

The process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or nonverbal messages

When I first read and re-read this, I could not find much to disagree with but equally not a lot to get excited by. So I decided to invent a better mousetrap! After much tweaking what I settled on remained similar to the intent of the ILAs version but was now framed in the language and activity of customer listening which I think teases out the challenges of that form of listening slightly better. This is the Brainfood version.

The goal of listening is to capture a full and accurate version of what is being said and then make sense of it in the exact same way that the customer intended.

Obviously this definition of listening doesn’t work for non verbal listening; for example listening to a live music event. In fact, this is our 1st point of learning around agreeing a definition for listening.

There are many definitions of listening. According to the ILA, 50 have emerged over the last 30 years. So current thinking at the ILA is to encourage that diversity and promote more accurate definitions for particular circumstances rather than try and crunch all definitions into a single version.

In line with that advice, the Brainfood definition is designed to describe verbal communication between people. In particular between an organisation and its customers. So non language sounds such as music or noises from the natural world are out of scope.

And had you wanted a title for the type of listening we are discussing, my vote is to call it ‘Customer Listening’ since it’s the customers’ reality we need to understand and respond to rather than our own interpretation of what is important.

From Form To Essence

Now that we have a formal way of describing the type of listening we are interested in, let’s next try and capture its essence.

What we are after is very much within the spirit of a type of listening skill called ‘active listening’; something I’m sure you you have already come across. A watered down version is often included in communication training modules. But its origins are worth understanding because they provide a valid and inspiring vision to aim at for any professional communicator who cares about the quality of the customer experience.

In summary, active listening is a specific communication skill, based on the work of psychologist Carl Rogers, who used it to great effect with his patients in order to understand their reality. At the core of authentic active listening is the ability to give free and undivided attention to the speaker. This means placing all of one’s attention and awareness at the disposal of another person, listening with interest and appreciating without interrupting. How often does that happen when you interact with a brand?

For those that have trained up in the way that Carl Rogers intended, active listening is acknowledged as a difficult discipline. It requires intense concentration and attention to everything the person is conveying, both verbally and nonverbally. The listener must empty themselves of personal concerns, distractions and preconceptions. This takes courage, generosity and patience.

Carl Rogers defined the listening process he was interested in as follows:

‘Attentive listening means giving one’s total and undivided attention to the other person and tells the other that we are interested and concerned. Listening is difficult work that we will not undertake unless we have deep respect and care for the other… we listen not only with our ears, but with our eyes, mind, heart and imagination, as well.

We listen to what is going on within ourselves, as well as to what is taking place in the person we are hearing. We listen to the words of the other, but we also listen to the messages buried in the words. We listen to the voice, the appearance, and the body language of the other… We simply try to absorb everything the speaker is saying verbally and nonverbally without adding, subtracting, or amending’.

I can imagine some customer service situations in which that level of intense concentration is needed. In the main, active listening as just described is a very advanced version of what everyday Customer Listening needs to be. But as a statement of the essence of what we are after, I hope you are getting the point.

Whether we are looking at advanced or simple versions, they are both modelled on the same foundation competencies defined earlier:

  1. The ability to capture a flow of words
  2. The ability to make sense of them

Both of which need to be 100% faithful to the original version.

If you take any of the quizzes at the end of these sessions you will appreciate the difficulty in being able to do that.

Implications For Corporate Listening

To repeat a point I made in the first session. If we can understand how individual listening works, we should have a sound basis for figuring out how a corporate version needs to measure up.

Our definition of effective listening suggests two processes need to happen (capture & decypher) within an associated quality standard (set at 100%).

In the light of that let’s review the ‘L’ word as commonly used in daily organisational life.

  • How well does your prospecting workflow stand scrutiny in terms of giving the customer what they actually wanted?
  • Does your complaints management act to stonewall rather than resonate with the impact endured by the customer?
  • What’s the signal:noise ratio of a typical online chat session?
  • What percentage of listening occurs in the attempted dialogue many customers undertake with offshore customer services?

Thinking a little more about your answers to those questions, where do they rise or fall in relation to our definition of two key processes and a quality standard?

That’s it for this session. We sign off as usual with a quiz taken from the soon to be published elearning resource produced under the Brainfood Training brand. It’s another level one test. This time from the Triple Play sector. In other words, Phone Broadband and TV. Instructions are provided as soon as you click on the image below to activate the quiz.

Good luck and let me know how you get on in the comments section below and generally what insights you took away from this session. By the way thanks for reading. Till the next time.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Martin Hill-Wilson, Hill-Wilson
Customer Service, CX & AI Engagement Strategist - Chair, Keynotes & Masterclasses. Brainfood is an advisory and education service. Advice in terms of co-designing practical engagement strategies that balance customer and business needs. These are orchestrated from a blend of live assistance, self service and proactive contact using whatever optimised mix of voice, text and video works best across realigned customer journeys.


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