Customer Experience News & Trends

Customers don’t want to repeat themselves: 4 ways to improve your staff’s listening skills

Customers want to tell you what they need. But they don’t want to tell you twice.

Yet, more than half of customers say they have to re-explain their issues when they call for help or an answer, a Salesforce State of Service study found.

Sometimes customers don’t mind re-explaining. They understand that some issues are more complex than others, and require another expert to step in. Or inquiries end up in the wrong place, and have to be moved to the right person.

But customers get particularly frustrated when they have to re-explain because the person who should be helping didn’t listen well enough.

To improve listening across your customer experience channels, try any or all of these tips:

1. Know the LISTEN approach

Use this acronym in training and create an image or tip sheet that people can post near where they talk to customers most:

  • L – Look interested. Whether you actually see customers or not, get engaged in the conversation by nodding your head and mirroring their tone.
  • I – Inquire. Asking questions shows that you understand what’s said — and you want more details to give informed answers. Ask: What else can you tell me about this? … Can you tell me more about …?
  • S– Stick to the point. Let customers talk about the topic, and help them stay focused by staying on topic once you’ve built rapport.
  • T – Test your understanding. Repeat key points to the customer to confirm you understand.
  • E – Evaluate the message. Take a moment to think about what’s been said before responding.
  • N – Neutralize your feelings. Work to understand the customers’ feelings without adding your own to the conversation.

2. Avoid common listening mistakes

Good listening can get derailed by common mistakes. Here’s what you’ll want to avoid so you can continue to give customers full attention:

  • Predictions. Avoid trying to guess what customers will say next. Focus on what they have to say and respond when they actually ask the question.
  • Assumptions. Assuming you know where the conversation is going or what customers want often leads to premature and incorrect solutions or answers. Instead, before moving forward, ask a question such as, If I have this right, you’d like me to … Is that correct?
  • Reductions. You don’t want to minimize the points or feelings customers share. Respond with a sincere level of concern when customers share problems and issues.
  • Repetition. Reciting customers’ exact words just to prove you’ve listened can come across as if you’re rushing and patronizing. Instead, reword their requests or questions in terms that you both understand.

3. Practice

It may seem impossible to practice listening because it’s almost an involuntary action like breathing. But you can practice by following these two exercises:

  • Absorb what’s said. Set aside time when you can commit to being quiet and only absorb what’s being said around you. One way: Try it during a National Public Radio show. Listen closely, then jot down a few key points you took from the story.
  • Study active listening. Watch television interviews for signs of active listening. Does the interviewer work off what the person says, or just wait to ask the next question? Does the interviewer make eye contact and respond to the person’s words and emotions? Learn from differences between active and lazy listening interviews.

4. Remove distractions

Distractions come in two forms. You want to reduce both as much as possible so you focus on customers’ words and needs. Keep these in check:

  • Personal distractions. Bad days, illnesses, stress and pet peeves get in the way of effective listening. The best way around them: Before interacting with customers, leave the baggage at the front door. Take 10 long breaths, do some yoga stretches, watch a funny YouTube video — whatever it takes to clear your mind of personal distractions.
  • External distractions. Noisy offices, busy people and technology easily pull ears, eyes and attention away from customers. To minimize these distractions, arrange yourself so you can’t see people walking by your work space; turn off personal email, text, social media or phone message alerts; and keep only essential work open on your desk and computer screen.

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