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I’m sorry, can you say that again?

February 16, 2012

The Fine and often underused skill of listening:

English: A left human ear. العربية: أذن بشرية ...

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t know about you, but I find myself consistently aggravated when I call a company, and have to repeat either my name, my reason for the call, or any other number of things multiple times.

It gives me the distinct impression that the person on the other end of the phone is either hearing impaired (Which is forgivable) or doesn’t care a jot about me and my situation.

Couple that with a disinterested tone of voice, and you have the perfect recipe for customer turnover.

For those working in the coaching and development of agents taking phone calls, I want to lay out for you my thoughts on the concept of what It means to listen, in the industry that we work in.  That’s not to say these same skills can’t be applied outside of a customer service setting successfully, but for the purpose of this post, we will focus on a few simple steps that can assist in creating a positive and advantageous interaction.

  • Step 1: Listen

“I’ve been dealing with this situation for almost a week now, my device isn’t working, no one has called me back, and you are still charging me!”

This sample statement can be applied to many a customer interaction.  Working for any size business any number of things can and do go wrong.  Part of how a customer will determine the outcome of the business arrangement, (Never forgot that, the CUSTOMER will have the final say) is based on how a representative listens and acknowledges the situations.

But what does it mean to listen?

Always give active indications that you’re listening.  Phrases such as:

“I understand”

“I see”


These simple statements, during the course of a customer’s explanation are an immediate indicator that you are listening to them.   Silence all too often can be perceived as disinterest, and the first time you hear “Are you still there?” you will know it to be true.

  • Step 2: Acknowledgement

This simply means to phrase in such a way your understanding of the customer’s issue, and your empathy towards it. We will go into greater detail on empathy in another post, but to give you a simple definition of what it means to empathize:

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this”

Simple Phrases to Convey your Acknowledgement:

“I understand, and would feel the same way”

“I can see why you’re so upset”

“I’m sorry that we have brought you to this point”

Simple phrases again, can make or break an interaction. Let your customer know that you have listened to them, and understand their concerns.

  • Step 3: Restating

Often times, the nature of a customer contact can be based on confusion with, or inability to utilize or access a product.  If we have taken the time to listen and acknowledge a customer’s concerns, the icing on the cake will be when we restate.

To put this simply, restating in an uncomplicated manner your understanding of the reason a customer called in, confirms absolutely to the customer that you heard them.  As a customer myself, nothing feels better then to hear the person on the other side of the phone repeat back to me what I have just said.

If you’re uncertain about this, try calling a fast food establishment for takeout. Once you’ve made your order, make a note to yourself if they have repeated back to you what your order was.

Pizza I made

Image via Wikipedia

When your large pizza with extra cheese, ends up being covered in anchovies and pineapple, (Not that I have anything against that flavor combination) consider, that it may have been helpful if the order taker had recapped your order.

Some suggestions for phrasing:

“So I understand you are calling because…”

“I just want to clarify with you briefly, the reason your calling is…”

“Let me make sure I have the information I need, your calling for…”

I’m sure we could go into hours and hours of discussion regarding proper listening techniques and how to implement them, but the fundamental ideas I have laid out for you, are a good stepping off point for creating a great customer interaction.  If your business isn’t emphasizing the importance of good listening skills with your representatives you may be creating situations that will not be recoverable either from a customer satisfaction or revenue retained point of view.

Again, I welcome any feedback or thoughts on the ideas listed here. Remember…

I’m listening!

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