Customers across industries all want the same thing: to feel valued and understood.
While meeting these expectations may seem simple, the reality is often far different. As humans, we often jump to conclusions in conversations, taking shortcuts to problem solve while failing to be fully present with our conversation partners. This is especially true if we’re feeling overwhelmed, rushed, or eager to move onto the next task at hand. It takes serious active listening skills to even begin empathizing and relating to each customer. Thankfully, there are a number of active listening tips you can employ to reach your communication goals with ease. The next time you’re assisting a customer, try these on for size:
Use Verbal Affirmations
When you have a conversation with a customer in person, there are little ways to show you’re listening. From a nod of the head to a reassuring smile, there are endless opportunities to show that you’re engaged and want them to continue speaking. Over the phone, however, those nonverbal cues are harder to convey. Anyone eager to learn how to get better at active listening can do so by incorporating verbal affirmations into their conversations.
For instance, if a customer is telling a long-winded story about their product getting lost in the mail, you can toss in a brief “mmhmm” every few sentences or so. Your vocal inflection can also go a long way in encouraging a caller to continue. A polite, friendly “yes, maam,” or “yes, sir” can urge a customer to carry on explaining while also reassuring them that you’re still there.
Shut Down Internal Dialogue
It’s hard to practice active listening skills while you’re thinking about how to respond. Instead of simply waiting your turn to talk, really listen – totally shut down any internal dialogue you’re having with yourself. While this is often easier said than done, the impact can be felt right away. The customer will notice you more grounded in the conversation and you may naturally come across as more empathetic, too.
Want to practice shutting down that internal dialogue? There are several active listening exercises you can try in your next conversation, but this one is especially effective: after a customer explains their question, concern or issue, try summarizing what you’ve heard. Start by using the phrase “what I hear you saying is,” and repeat their concerns back to them. Then give the person a chance to correct anything you might have gotten wrong or overlooked. Only after you’ve gotten their issue fully summarized should you begin to respond in kind.
Mirror the Speaker
Matching your tone to the customer’s is another great active listening skill to try out in conversation. While it’s important to always remain polite, friendly and helpful regardless of how the caller sounds, adjusting your tone can help make the other person feel better understood. If they’re expressing positive emotions, try verbally expressing how happy you are that they’re happy.
This works for negative emotions, too. If a customer is feeling frustrated, angry or upset, take a moment to recognize their emotions and empathize. Explain that you understand how they feel and acknowledge how hard those feelings can be. Only try to solve the problem once you’ve conveyed your empathy for them.
Take Time to Clarify
One of the main benefits of active listening is reaching a point of mutual understanding more quickly. By taking a moment to ask clarifying questions, you give the customer an opportunity to fill in the blanks in their story. If there were any unclear or confusing aspects of the conversation, clarification can allow key facts to be re-stated or further explained.
We all jump to conclusions in conversations, but in customer service, this is a fast-track to misunderstanding. By taking a moment to clarify any confusing aspects of a customer’s story, you’ll come across as caring and patient instead of rushed and apathetic. Give your customer the time they deserve and you’ll be paid back with their loyalty.
Resist the Urge to Interrupt
There are few things as annoying or invalidating as being interrupted. While it seems like common sense to avoid interrupting your customers as they explain their questions or concerns, the problem is more widespread than you might expect. Even if your caller jumps the gun and interrupts you, it’s important not to do the same in return.
Active listening skills take plenty of practice to perfect. With time, you’ll be able to incorporate these tips in daily conversation with ease. At MAP Communications, our call center customer service experts are trained in active listening to ensure the very best customer experience every time they pick up the phone. If you don’t have the time to dedicate to training your own team (or the budget to build one), consider partnering with MAP for your customer calls.
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