Saturday, March 16, 2013

Active Listening is a Powerful Customer Service Tool

One of the most powerful customer service tools is simply not used enough nor that well.

“What? What did you say? I’m sorry I wasn’t really listening.”

Right. That’s the problem and the tool. Listening

God in her infinite wisdom gave us two ears and one mouth to tell us something. To listen twice as much as we talk. But we don’t really listen very well or actively. No most of us are very much like doctors who only listen to their patients 28 seconds before making a preliminary diagnosis of what the illness is. That is why so many people end up with incorrect prescriptions or tests. Because the doctor really did not listen to what the problem really I before determining what the answer would be. That also explains the colonoscopy when you came in with a cough…

It is rather amazing how much one can learn simply by listening to another person. So much of customer service is based upon listening that it is a very impressive skill that one must learn and practice in every situation. One cannot help another person until he or she knows exactly what the need or problem is. And what needs to be solved if anything.

The best way to listen is called active listening. Active listening refers to the activity of actually hearing what the other person has to say before preparing a response. It also calls for paraphrasing back with what the individual said to assure him or her that you actually listened to her. Most of the time what we do is listen and focus in on one or two words perhaps a phrase that the other person has used. So we begin preparing what we are going to say based on those words. Active listening requires you to actually not begin thinking of what you will say until the person has stopped speaking and you have summarized or paraphrased what it is that you believe you heard.

The best way to accomplish this in a customer service environment is to actually take notes as the individual is talking. Write down what he is saying is if you were sitting in class listening to a professor provide a discussion on a topic you had to remember for an exam. If you write down what the person says you must listen actively and not start thinking of what you are going to say in response. Once the person has stopped speaking, and we know that by waiting for an actual pause of at least two seconds (one one thousand, two one thousand), you then repeat back to the person what it is you believed he or she was saying. Finish that with “is that what you were trying to tell me?”

If the person says yes, then you can go on to solve the problem.

Too often we are so eager to try to respond to the issue, to solve the problem that we don’t listen to the entire statement the person is making.

People tend to speak about their problems as if they were writing an essay with the classical three part structure. The first section is an introductory statement that often sets the event of a problem within the context which we called the set-up, This is followed by the body of the problem in which the person tells you what the actual issue is, often in great detail This is followed by a request for action such as “what are you going to do about it?’

So if we listen only to the beginning, we only listen to the context and not the problem itself. This almost always leads to an attempt to solve the wrong issue. Or even worse to a statement that “we don’t work on that in this office” and sending the student on to another office creating the shuffle. But if you took the time to listen closely to the entire statement and took notes you will surely get the information you need to be able to resolve the issue.

Active listening and note taking is also a very powerful tool in other situations as well. Just last week a client asked me how I was able to capture so much of the reality of the institution when I had only been on campus for two days. Those two days were spent meeting with a number of groups of individuals and random discussions with students to let them talk through their issues with customer service on the campus. I used active listening which included a great deal of note taking. I did not try to do any problem solving during the listening process. Instead since I had extensive notes I was able to study the notes following the listening sessions and pull together some very clear and compelling issues that were interfering with providing good customer service on the campus.

If I did much more than prompt the people into talking about the situations on campus I would not have been listening actively. I would’ve been participating and that would’ve defeated the purpose.

So the next time you look in the mirror take note that you have two ears and one mouth. Use those ears at least twice as much as you talk. If you do I can assure you will increase your customer service to your clients immensely.

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