How Hard Can It Be to Listen?

How hard can it be to listen

Nearly a decade ago, Stephen Mann offered this important advice to service desks, “Always listen to the customer and their issues. It’s important that you don’t just hear the words but that you understand the tone of voice (and where appropriate body language)… The customers’ problem may not be of high importance to (you) but it’s important enough to the customer to have taken time out of their precious working day to seek advice and help.”

Great advice seems easy enough to do. Right? How hard can listening be? 

Actually harder than you think! Research suggests that listening is one of the hardest skills to master. Cherie Kerr, president of ExecuProv, a Santa Ana, CA based communication training company claims that technology makes it difficult for us to focus on what people are saying.

Gilda Carle, a New York City-based psychotherapist, says that we have trouble listening because we focus on body language 55% of the time, and on vocal intonation 38% of the time. That leaves only 7% devoted to what someone is saying. This makes listening especially challenging when a service desk relies heavily on non-verbal communication. 

5 Ways To Be A Better Listener

Active listening communicates that you’re paying attention. It’s one of the most crucial components for satisfying customers. It is also one of the most important skills for anyone providing and staffing a service desk. The challenge to convey you’re paying attention when you’re on a service or support desk means you need to talk. 

These five qualities help service desk personnel demonstrate they’re listening.  

  1. Count to 3. When communicating by voice, before replying count to 3 so the person on the other end can finish and will feel like they were heard. Oftentimes service desk customers are anxious and/or frustrated, maybe even angry.  Allowing for a pause enables them to express themselves and regain calm. 
  2. Acknowledge the problem. The best way to do this is to repeat the problem back to demonstrate you heard them. This is known as testing for understanding. You don’t have to repeat it exactly word-for-word but you need to be pretty close. Have them confirm that you “got it.”
  3. Be interested. Ask more expansive probing questions in a calm and “I really want to know” tone. These types of questions allow the person to expand on their situation and give you more information. 
  4. Self-check before answering. It’s terribly important to frame your responses in helpful and positive terms, so you don’t escalate the issue with your customer.
  5. Record calls and use these for training. Have staff members listen, assess the calls and make recommendations for how to improve listening.

Technology, such as ticket management solutions, enables service desks to be more productive and efficient.  However, the ability to leverage these and create positive customer experiences takes skilled service desk personnel.

Active listening is one of the most important skills in providing exceptional service. Exceptional customer service translates into happier customers who are most likely to buy and refer others more often. 

Filed under: Productivity