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The role for any customer service agent is to listen to customers effectively. Customers can provide valuable feedback that can help you improve your product or service, and they can alert you to issues that may be holding your company back. Additionally, many customer service agents actually feel that conversing with customers is a motivating factor in their careers.
According to the 2023 Hero Experience report, 47% of all surveyed respondents (customer service agents by profession,) ranked engaging and conversing with customers as a top motivator in their careers.
But engaging with customers — and especially listening effectively to customers — is easier said than done. And building an entire team of customer service agents that are active listeners is a downright challenge.
Below, you’ll learn the best verbal and non-verbal methods for listening to customers effectively. You’ll also learn the importance of creating a team that deeply listens to customers, and how to find and build a team of service agents that are active listeners. Also provided are tips for training your team to be effective listeners.
Why active listening is important in customer service
In short: Actively listening to customers can help you improve your business. When you listen to your customers, you can gather their feedback; which is the key to understanding how they truly feel about the products and services you deliver.
[Read More: Assessments for Call Center Agents]
5 examples of active listening for call center reps:
- Building trust and rapport.
- Demonstrating concern over issues or requests.
- Repeating and paraphrasing the problem to show you understand and hear the customer.
- Nonverbal cues for in-person or video communications, such as eye contact and leaning in.
- Verbal affirmations after the customer makes a statement to show you’re present such as “I see,” “I know,” or “I totally get it.”
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How to improve your active listening skills in customer service
As a customer service representative, call center agent, or contact center agent, it’s natural to want to improve your active listening skills and those of your team.
To become an active listener and build rapport with customers, you’ll want to get with your team or a team member and practice weekly. The key is to focus on single one of the active listening tips for call centers below, and regularly work on that one skill. The key is repetition.
For example: If you wanted to become a more effective listener to customers, you may want to focus on showing empathy through verbal affirmations. After they raise their concern or issue, you would focus on following up with “Oh wow. I’m so sorry to hear that.” The more you focus on improving this one skill, the more it will become a regular part of your customer service communications.
[Read More: Customer Service Tone Tips]
Verbal active listening skills for call center agents
Use affirmative statements.
Actively show that you’re tracking what your customer is saying. Use statements such as “I see,” “I understand,” etc. Following your customers statements with tracking statements lets them know you’re following what they’re saying.
Empathy is one of the top traits that customers want when speaking to a contact center agent. Being an effective listener also means you should be empathetic and understanding of their issue(s). Struggling to relate to customers? Try these empathy exercises for customer service.
Repeat and/or paraphrase.
Show customers that you care and are being an active listener by repeating and paraphrasing what they say, so they know you understand.
Part of being an effective listener means asking questions so you can get to the bottom of the issue, and how you can help resolve it.
Avoid arguing or becoming defensive.
Unfortunately, upset customers will naturally try and take their frustration out on you. It’s important that you listen to their issues and refrain from arguing or becoming defensive.
As you speak to customers, make sure you use an empathetic and friendly tone. While doing this, let customers know that you’re doing everything in your power to help them. They need to know that you are a champion here to defend them, not an obstacle in their way.
Try to relate to customers as you speak with them. This will show that you’re actively listening and help to make the experience better for them.
Use positive language.
When dealing with customer issues, try to refrain from using negative language. For example, instead of saying “don’t hit the red button”, you would want to say “the green button is the best choice.” Positive language helps to take away the stress that comes with customer service calls.
Non-Verbal active listening skills & strategies for call center agents
Not all active listening requires speaking. Often, it’s the use of physical, or non-verbal listening actions, that relays how attentive an agent is being.
Use genuine facial expressions.
When a customer is relaying feedback or asking a question, it may be natural to raise your eyebrows, smile, or show concern through facial cues. Be sure not to overdo it, as it may come across as disingenuous, but displaying emotion or a sense of understanding can build comfort and trust.
Make eye contact.
While you obviously don’t want to stare at a customer, it’s important to maintain natural eye contact during a conversation. Looking away at a phone or at other objects nearby suggests the customer does not have your undivided attention — especially for in-person support encounters.
If you need to look away at a screen or device to assist the customer, let them know with a brief comment, like, “Let me check your customer profile to confirm your order number.” When you’re done looking up the information, resume eye contact with the customer.
Pro tip: Avoid working with CRM or support platforms that require agents to switch tabs to access customer data. When agents know who the customer is in the first 5 seconds, the subsequent interaction will flow more easily and accurately.
Especially when handling multiple tickets or complaints, it can be easy to become distracted. However, when working to resolve a customer issue, you’ll want to avoid distractions at all costs.
Nobody likes to be interrupted, especially customers who are having issues with your brand. Interrupting an already agitated customer can be a recipe for disaster. So, don’t interrupt your customers when they’re talking, unless you’re acknowledging their input with tracking statements. But never cut them off or interrupt them as they’re voicing their concerns.
Final thoughts: How to listen to customers effectively
The importance of listening skills in customer service can’t be overstated. Although listening to customers effectively takes a variety of skills, many of these active listening techniques can be learned personally or from team training. If you manage or hire candidates for a customer service team, start the process early by identifying potential candidates who already possess the traits needed for success in a customer service role. Be sure to use strategic customer service interview questions to evaluate these candidates as you build your team.
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With Gladly, agents no longer have to tab across screens and compile multiple tickets to get customer context. With a Conversation Timeline that shows a customer’s entire conversation history, no matter what channel they come from, in a single view, agents get more context, need less repetition, offer quicker responses, and can provide a radically personal touch to customer service.
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Gladly is a customer service platform for digitally-focused B2C companies who want to maximize the lifetime value of their customers. Unlike the legacy approach to customer service software, which is designed around a ticket or case to enable workflows, Gladly enables radically personal customer service centered around people to sustain customer loyalty and drive more revenue.
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