“Active listening” is among the key tenets of any communication strategy
In its simplest sense, it means you’re paying undivided attention to the other party and trying to ascertain their wants and requirements, and ultimately providing a suitable response. Active listening is one of the many skills needed to offer outstanding customer service.
Are You Listening, Really?
Call center agents may be falling behind in their active listening skills, even without knowing it.
In a busy professional environment, there are several different stimuli vying for our attention. This can compel agents to multi-task. The consistent pressure of delivering on call center targets can lead to a sense of fatigue that makes it difficult to focus. Also, the often repetitive nature of call center conversations can cause agents to fall into an almost mechanical pattern without actively listening to each customer individually.
Meanwhile, nearly 50% of agents polled in a 2023 study said conversing and engaging with customers was a key driver for success. But interacting with consumers and, more importantly, absorbing or assimilating what they have to say, isn’t as easy as it appears to be.
Understanding the Meaning of Active Listening
Agents in a call center who practice active listening pay close attention to the customer, mirror their actions when appropriate, provide suitable responses, and retain the conversation for future reference. There are two main parts to active listening: nonverbal and vocal.
One’s facial expressions, as well as those of the individual with whom one is communicating, may be used to infer that person’s level of interest and attentiveness. This is a case of active listening that doesn’t involve words, which is important in video chat support.
But in call centers, verbal active listening is vital, since employees don’t always have the advantage of observing visual clues from customers.
Become a Rockstar Agent with these Active Listening Tips
Here are five easy tips for practicing in a call center to take your active listening skills to the next level:
1. Show that you care
Customers deeply value empathy from their call center agents. To really hear someone out and help them, you need to have compassion and insights into their situation. One great strategy is to show that you care – your tone, your words, and your general verbal demeanor will reflect your genuine concern.
2. Work on building trust and being an ally
Use an upbeat and friendly tone of voice while interacting with consumers. Maintain open communication with them while you work to resolve their issues. They must understand that you are on their team as a defender and not an adversary.
3. Stay – and speak – positive
If you can, avoid being negative. For instance, “the green button is an excellent choice” would be preferable to “don’t press the red button.” Call center interactions may be stressful, but that tension can be mitigated with the use of optimistic language.
4. Don’t get defensive
Customers who are already disgruntled are more inclined to want to vent their anger on you. It’s important that you hear out their concerns without responding aggressively or contesting their challenges. There are always better ways to deal with problematic callers.
5. Listen for signs of frustration
A caller who speaks in short, sharp bursts or with a flat tone might be a little agitated and anxious to not waste any time. Keep an eye out for sarcasm, pauses in an exchange, and an abrupt rise in volume as signs of growing discontent.
Call Center Active Listening Examples
Ready to try out the five tips we shared? Here are a few examples to start with:
- Affirmations: Say something like, “I see what you mean,” “I understand,” “I totally get it,” etc.
- Paraphrasing: Show that you’ve fully comprehended a customer’s query; rephrase it in your own words.
- Questions: Inquire more about the statement they made by asking follow-up questions (“When you mentioned X, did you imply…?”).
- Summarizing: Let customers review their previous comments and offer clarifications or emphasize key pain points.
We are asked all the time what is the single most important quality in a call center agent – that can ensure they offer excellent customer service.
Naturally, from a strategic standpoint, it is preferable if the customer never has to contact the call center at all. The technocrats among us are going to tell you that the answer lies in chatbots, AI, and other cutting-edge tools.
But putting that aside for the moment – and assuming that the customer would actually want to speak to a human agent at some point in the process – there’s one obvious skill you need to have: the ability to listen with focus, alertness, authenticity, and intent.
That is the undeniable importance of active listening!