A few weeks back, I wrote an article called Can You Actually Listen? which took a brief look at overcoming some of the hindrances to truly listening. As a brief recap, it covered the importance of a CSR being able to listen while handling the venting and potentially personal sounding attack, without seeking to verbally strike back. Also, it brought up the ability to know the limits of the company policy but still be able to listen and formulate a positive response that is within the guidelines but more than satisfies the customer. The importance of being able to listen and use sharp communication and logic skills to find the root of the problem was also discussed. And lastly, it looked at the importance of being comfortable with social media service and being able to function and “listen” in that world.
At this point, I would like to continue the topic, looking at a few ways to enhance your listening ability. Chris Majer is the founder and CEO of the Human Potential Project and author of The Power to Transform: Passion, Power, and Purpose in Daily Life and he says that the problem lies in the fact that small business owners receive little to no training in the art of listening.
An article on Openforum quotes Majer as stating, “According to the International Listening Association, more than 35 studies indicate that listening is a top skill needed for success in business, yet less than 2 percent of all professionals obtain training to improve listening skills. Listening isn't taught in any business school, and there are few listening courses available to companies. The subject tends to get dismissed as the dreaded 'touchy feely' stuff.”
So, if the art of listening is not engrained into the business leaders, it is no surprise that it gets little to no emphasis as a skill needed during the hiring process for service representatives. One major backlash he points out in the same article, is that the explosion of the online world has made the average consumer much more informed than in the past, and so if the CSR is just going through the motions and not truly listening, it can become evident to the customer quickly when their comments are glossed over.
Historically, advice for listening included things like repeating the statements to insure you heard right. This parroting skill is a bit outdated and while it may assist in assuring you heard the words correctly, it does not help to get to the root of the problem.
Interpreting and/or translating what you heard can be a better tip if done properly. If you interpret, and your interpretation is inaccurate, it will bring about better clarification. In the end, you have to be able to interpret and convert into the applicable jargon that the solution requires, and paraphrasing it back to the customer can assure you are both on the same page.
In an article by Kevin Eikenberry at Leadership & Learning, he offers pointers from what he calls the “Big Ears Approach” to listening. He says we all know the importance of listening, and we know basically how to do it, but we still fail to do it properly. “So rather than trying to teach you skills or admonish you to do what you already know is extremely valuable, I’m going to give your four ideas, what I call the big ears approach to listening, that will help you think about listening in a new ways,” he says.
Elevate: Going beyond just hearing and going through a mechanical response process, listening requires feelings and relationships. If you have ever experienced a time when someone truly listened to you, you know the feeling it provides. Elevate every communication opportunity to those heights, and seek to get in touch with the person, not just their words.
Admire: If you met someone you truly admired – a leader, famous person, etc. – you would most likely listen intently to what they had to say when they spoke. Often, a failure to listen to customers comes from not admiring them as important enough to listen closely enough to, or feeling they won’t have anything of major importance to say. Therefore, change your thinking to look at every person as someone more admirable that has important information to share.
Relate: When we fail to relate to something, there is a disconnect that inhibits our understanding. If the thought is that the customer has nothing important to say that I can relate to, then it will inhibit the listening process. Eikenberry says, “One of the best ways to naturally harness that power and focus is to relate the message to something you do care about, are interested in and already understand. The process of relating more effectively to the message and the speaker naturally helps us listen better.”
Serve: This is a real critical one, especially for a CSR. The job of a CSR is to serve the customer. It is not about self, it is about others. If you approach every encounter as a new chance to serve others and begin looking past your own desires, then it becomes easier to focus on what others have to say and increase the listening capacity as a method of serving.
The end-goal is to retrain the mind to not so much be thinking of the act of listening but to think of the customer in a different light, which will make listening much more automatic and important. This is the type of trait someone seeking a CSR career should be striving to acquire in order to thrive in the position of service to others.
Image courtesy of Photo Stock, at FreeDigitialPhotos.net