Active listening techniques for call centres
I often get asked what the most important attribute is in being able to provide great customer service via the call centre.
Of course, strategically, removing the need for the customer to even make contact with the call centre is always a great start.
And the techies amongst us will tell us that chatbots, artificial intelligence and a whole host of other exciting technology is the answer.
But if we put aside all of that for now and make a wild assumption that at some stage in the process a customer will actually talk to a call centre employee, there is one clear standout skill that every call centre agent should possess.
Why Active Listening skills for call centre agents are so critical
With the power of sight taken away from us, it becomes essential that we use our verbal skills to become the master of the customer service profession.
But verbals skills can constitute a lot of different components. Your pitch, tone, pace etc. and all play an important part in the customer experience.
But for this article, we are just going to hone in on active listening.
Active Listening Definition
Before we dive into why it’s so important and some tips on how to improve your active listening skills, let’s be clear on a definition.
Active Listening in customer service is defined as a technique that requires the listener to concentrate, demonstrate, respond and remember what is being said by the customer.
Broadly speaking, Active Listening can be divided into two key components:
Non-Verbal Active Listening
When we used to communicate back in the old days before technology and even letters, humans relied on actually speaking to each other in a face to face environment to communicate.
I know right. Weird.
And we actually became pretty good at it.
Studies have shown that when communicating in person, a large percentage (the actual amount varies between studies) of the interaction is assessed from the visual queues as opposed to what was said (the verbal component).
In fact when I think back to my childhood, from the moment I walked into the lounge room I knew I was in trouble just by the look on my mums face before she had even said a word!
That’s an example of non-verbal active listening.
A smile or frown, eye contact, posture, hand movements and gestures etc all enable me to gauge pretty quickly the situation I’m in and whether the person I am talking to is engaged and paying attention.
Verbal Active Listening
For active listening in call centres, however, we don’t have that luxury of being able to physically see those cues from the customer (well not yet until video chat becomes more commonplace but that’s for another article).
And that’s where Active Listening for call centres becomes so important.
Active listening examples in a call centre
I’ve listened to a lot of calls over the decades and the calls that are the most painful to listen to are normally the ones where at one point, the customer has actually said “are you still there? are you listening to me?”.
Or perhaps this scenario might sound familiar:
Customer: “Oh hi Justin, my name is Emily and I’m just wanting to enquire about my latest bill”
Justin: “Thanks for calling. Yes, I can help you with your bill enquiry. Can I just start with your first name?”
Both are clear examples of when active listening skills have not been applied and the end result is typically a pretty disappointed and frustrated customer.
5 Active Listening Tips for call centre agents
You will find lots of material on the internet but I believe that there are five key active listening tools or techniques that can be used in the call centre.
1.Positive Reinforcement Words
It’s important to drop in some positive words to the conversation like “yes”, “very good”, “absolutely” etc to let the customer know that you are listening and comprehending in a positive manner what they are saying.
2. Affirmation Sounds
When the customer is talking, make sure you insert some affirmation sounds like “aha”, “mmm” etc at the right time to let them know you are still listening intently to what they are saying.
This will go a long way to avoiding the “are you still there?” comments.
Remember that example I provided earlier about the customer offering their name at the start and then the agent asking for it again?
If you didn’t then you need to also work on your reading skills 😜
There is nothing worse than a customer providing information to the call centre agent that only moments later, the call centre agent asks for the same information again.
When a customer is providing you with information, asking them relevant questions is a sure-fire way to demonstrate that you were listening to what they were saying.
It also shows that you care, and in case you didn’t know, displaying empathy is also a great technique to use in winning a customer over.
And if you need some empathy statements you can use, it just so happens I’ve got some for you: Empathy Statements you can use in a call centre.
It’s always a great idea to seek clarification from the customer on information they have provided you.
This might be immediately after they’ve provided the information (paraphrasing) or a nice summary at the end.
It categorically demonstrates that you were listening!
I’m a firm believer that customer service is a learnt skill that is made up of many different components and there is no one silver bullet.
But having judged numerous call centre awards one thing I can assure you is that Active Listening skills is the one common attribute that is always shared by all the best agents!
Recommended further reading: Tips on how to handle angry customers