Arielle has taught Business and Customer Service as well has Master's degree in Business Administration.
What Is Effective Listening?
Imagine that it's Saturday morning and the new cable system you ordered was just installed. You did a standard walk through with the tech and even checked your tablet to make sure the wireless Internet worked. You're happy, so you the tech on her way. It's not until later that day that you realize you can't connect to the Internet in your bedroom. You call the cable company to complain, and after being on hold for several minutes, the rep comes to the line and says, 'Thank you for calling, how can I help you?'
You respond, telling her everything that happened, then she just says, 'Can I get your name and account number?'
You verify your account, then she asks 'How can I help you?' By this time you're really frustrated. What's happening here is a failure in effective listening.
Effective Listening is the act of being 100% engaged when someone is speaking. It does not mean using the time the customer speaks to think of a response; it is taking in information from the speaker and then following up with feedback on what was said. In the customer service field, the greater the level of effective listening, the better at serving and anticipating a customer's needs. In customer service, effective listeners make customers feel that they are not only heard but also understood.
In our example, the customer service rep made two mistakes:
- She completely ignored you when you initially explained the problem
- She asked you to repeat yourself after the verification process
Protocol is important, but hospitality towards the customer is always first priority.
Showing the Customer Empathy
The fix for the first mistake is easy. When a customer calls in with a complaint or an issue, show empathy by apologizing. Though you may feel that you are admitting fault, what you are actually doing is acknowledging the fact that your customer is having a bad experience.
Another benefit of an apology is putting the customer at ease. Showing empathy not only de-escalates the situation but makes the customer feel heard and important. It gives them the feeling that they matter and that finally they have reached someone who cares enough to help them. When the customer's complaint is not acknowledged, the customer begins to feel ignored and frustrated.
A simple apology like, 'I am so sorry to hear about that, as soon as I can get you verified, we will work together to find a solution to your problem,' not only shows empathy, it also alerts the customer of the verification process as well as reassures the customer that you want to resolve their issue.
Acknowledging the Customer
In our example, the representative's second mistake was asking how she could help after you'd already explained the whole problem. Once you were verified, the rep should have attempted to paraphrase and repeat what she understood of your complaint. A simple, 'So let me see if I understand you correctly…' would have sufficed.
Acknowledging the customer is more than just greeting the customer and using the correct surnames. You must be able to summarize what the customer has said, taking the time to stop every so often to verify that you understood correctly. If the rep had been an effective listener, she could have made relevant suggestions on how to solve the problem or even upsell you to a higher Internet speed or more powerful router. This is called anticipating the needs of the customer and can only be achieved through effective listening.
It is important to note that you must always explain to the customer what you are doing when trying to solve his or her issue. You must not only be able to listen and summarize what the customer has said, but once you have identified the problem, you must also be able explain your fixes.
Consequences of Poor Effective Listening
Poor listening leads to frustrated or even irate customers. You can easily lose a new or even loyal customer if they feel like they aren't being listened to or treated well. Customers will not hesitate to leave a service provider due to a lack of customer service. They are quite capable of researching alternate service providers.
The most severe consequence of bad customer service occurs when that customer leaves negative reviews. If a customer is angry enough, he or she may report your company to the Better Business Bureau and leave multiple comments on different review sites or scam report sites. This can be incredible damaging, as you've not only lost a customer, but their reviews turn away other potential customers as well.
Effective listening is understanding what a person has said and then providing relevant feedback. In customer service, effective listening entails acknowledging the customer and showing empathy by apologizing, especially when there is an issue. Effective listening allows customer service to anticipate customers' needs and might create upsell potential. The biggest consequence to poor effective listening is bad PR, which influences potential new customers.
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