How to Get Better at Listening to Customers

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Swetha Amaresan
Swetha Amaresan



According to the novel, Eat, Pray, Love, when you interrupt someone, it means you believe what you have to say is more important than what the other person has to say. And, whether you'd like to admit it or not, this means you subconsciously think you're the most important person in the conversation.


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Now, imagine how infuriating that situation is when it's with a customer service agent. Almost every rep knows they should listen, but many still struggle with the fundamental action. While they're hard at work resolving the case, the customer is explaining important details that go unnoticed. And, when the agent is finally caught with their head down, the customer leaves the interaction feeling underappreciated.

Of course, no rep wants their customers to feel this way, but it's something many people do experience. This makes it important for management to teach their agents about active listening techniques and encourage them to take a customer-centric approach.

In this post, we'll discuss some of the reasons why reps struggle with listening, then we'll provide steps that you can take to improve it on your customer service team.

3 Reasons Why Customer Service Reps Don't Listen

There are a few reasons why customer service reps don't listen, and most of the time it's not because they don't care about your customers. Below are three common reasons you can address with your team.

1. Repeat Problems

Sometimes the same problem comes up over and over again. Your reps can detect and solve this problem in their sleep. So, when a customer starts explaining the issue, they skip the summary and jump straight to the solution.

This leads them to tune out and interrupt the customer before they've finished explaining the issue. In your rep's eyes, they're saving time, but in the customers', they're being ignored.

2. Experienced Agent

When agents have been in the same role for many years, they can feel like they're in a rut. Daily metrics become trivial and they're fatigued by the repetitive workflow. While these reps should be your most valuable assets, they can become a liability if they lose motivation. It's important to remind experienced agents about their value and incentivize them to keep up their hard work.

3. Heavy Case Volume

Juggling dozens of clients, meetings, trainings, and more will make your team stressed and distracted. While your team may be able to handle the demand at first, over time your queue will back up and customers will be waiting for answers. This is where a help desk comes in handy as it can assist your team with managing their daily workflow.

No matter which factor(s) is affecting your team, there are multiple ways to correct them. In the next section, we list a few techniques you can use to improve listening on your customer service team.

10 Ways to Get Better at Listening to Customers

In-Person Interactions

1. Make eye contact.

For some reps, making eye contact can feel uncomfortable or probing. However, it's one of the best ways to show that you're paying attention to the customer. And, by maintaining eye contact, your reps will be less likely to "zone out" when customers are explaining problems.

2. Use attentive body language.

Other than eye contact, body language can show customers that your reps are actively listening to their explanations. For example, crossing your arms portrays a closed-off, uninviting demeanor, while placing your arms by your sides creates a friendlier appearance. Even if your agents are listening intently, paying attention to small, physical details will play a major role in how customers interpret your team's responses.

3. Put away devices.

There's simply no other way around it. When you're engaging with a customer your agents need to disconnect any unnecessary devices. It's rude to be on a cell phone or a laptop when speaking with a customer. Not only does this distract the rep but it also tells customers your team has better things to do than deal with their problems.

4. Move away from distractions.

If you run a busy store or call center, it can be distracting if reps are surrounded by coworkers and other customers. Too much environmental activity pulls their attention away from the customer their working with, making it hard to listen properly. If possible, move the conversation to a quieter, more secluded area of the business so your rep can provide the necessary amount of attention.

In-Person and Phone Conversations

5. Use short phrases to show you're listening.

When the customer is speaking, it's okay to interject with short phrases, like "yes," "okay," "I see," or "go on." These are gentile verbal cues that let the customer know your rep is following along. Long silences over the phone can sometimes be uncomfortable for the speaker and these short blurbs provide reassurance that your team is actively listening.

6. Lean into silences.

As we alluded to above, humans tend to avoid silence. Most people are uncomfortable when they're with other people but no one is speaking. Try sitting at a table with your friends, making eye contact but not saying a word. You'll probably end up bursting into laughter due to the sheer awkwardness.

This, however, gives service reps a powerful tool when working with customers. Silences show the customer that your agent is not going to interrupt until they're finished speaking. When customers are frustrated or upset, this moment creates a break in the action that can diffuse the customer's emotion. Additionally, your rep will have added time to come up with a thoughtful and effective response.

7. Let the customer finish speaking before troubleshooting.

Before you start problem-solving, it's important to listen to everything the customer has to say. Even when your rep thinks the customer is done explaining, have your team ask one final time for additional information. They can say something like, "Before I start working on this, is there any additional information you'd like me to be aware of?" Not only can this help your team solve problems, but it'll also show customers that you value every detail they provide.

8. Rephrase their explanation in your own words.

Once the customer has fully explained their problem, the first thing your team should do is rephrase it using their own words. This restatement lets the customer know that your team understands their issue and provides them an opportunity to correct them if they're wrong.

9. Ask plenty of questions.

Many business owners believe that the quicker you get a customer out the door, the happier they'll be. However, what truly satisfies customers is knowing that an agent has taken the time to truly understand their situation. Asking plenty of questions about the issue shows a dedication to the customer's needs and a desire to resolve the problem

10. Demonstrate empathy.

Delving deep into the customer's issue is extremely important. However, it's equally crucial to take a step back and assess how this problem has affected the customer's personal or professional life. Take a moment to apologize for the inconvenience and assure them you'll do everything in your power to resolve their problem. Empathy is not only a vital component of active listening, but it also turns one-time customers into lifetime advocates.

For more ways to improve your customer service team, read this list of customer service tips.

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