"Are you really listening... or are you just waiting for your turn to talk?” - Robert Montgomery
It is important to be both a willing and a skilled listener. Richard Hunsaker, author of Understanding and Developing the Skills of Oral Communication, states that we are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful about 75% of the time we are listening to another person. Effectively listening to your customers will give them the feeling that they are important; it will also tell them that you are appreciative of their business. Any signal sent to your customer that gives them the feeling that “you’re just not important” will lead to customer churn. Every customer wants to feel like they are your only customer.
There are three types of listening that people use in everyday conversations. The first is passive listening, where you are really only there in person or on the other end of the phone. You are completely tuned out and pick up on neither the spoken or unspoken messages being delivered. The second type of listening is selective listening, where you fade in and out of listening. You tune in and out to what is being said. You hear the voice but sometimes you do not hear the words. Or you hear the words but you are not focused on the tone or unspoken meaning. The final type is active listening. When you listen actively, you focus totally on the person with whom you are communicating. You hear their voice, you listen to the words they use, the tone of their voice, the rate of speech, the quality of voice and other important messages, some of which are not even spoken.
We are all human and sometimes it may be difficult to stay focused on the communication exchange with your customer. When you give your focus to active listening, you are able to detect moods, hidden meanings and other things that are not spoken. You may detect anger, happiness, frustration or sarcasm. During active listening you are having two-way dialogue. You listen, respond, question, listen some more and reply accordingly. The following are some techniques for developing active listening skills:
Focused attention provides a way for you to concentrate on your customer and what is being said. When you are conversing over the phone, eye contact will not be possible. While speaking to your customer over the phone, do not multi-task (for example, checking your email). It will cause you to miss significant information, and it will be noticeable to the customer.
In your customer conversations, taking notes will not only provide you with the documentation you need, but it will also show the customer you are actively listening and genuinely interested in their issues. Failing to take notes could result in lost information that was provided by the customer. Cornell University's Walter Pauk reports that people will forget 46% of what they hear after one day. Can you afford to miss out on key info or deadlines by only trusting your memory?
Paraphrasing and summarizing allows you to rephrase in your own words what you think the customer is saying. This is an effective method for insuring the accuracy or your interpretation of what was heard. The notes you were taking will provide a great structure to what you will say during your summary. It also validates that you mutually understood the information. After your paraphrase, give the customer an opportunity to clarify or expand on the information.
Verbal prompts throughout the conversation are a way for you to show continued interest in what the customer is saying. It communicates to your customer that you are paying attention. This is especially true for phone conversations. Have you ever been asked, “Are you listening to me?” or “Are you still there?” The following are common verbal prompts you can use in person or over the phone: “I see”, “Okay”, “Right”, “Yes” and “Uh huh”.
When you ask questions to fill in gaps, complete your understanding and show interest, you are more likely to get a complete picture of what your customer needs. Showing interest by asking additional questions goes a long way toward building rapport and a positive relationship. You will better understand your customer’s thoughts and feelings. This will also demonstrate to a customer that you are interested in what they are saying.
Customers want to feel important. Any signals you send to customers that give them the feeling that they are not important can lead to problems. After your next customer conversation, test yourself to see if you were truly listening – or just waiting for your turn to talk. Ask yourself the following questions: What did I learn from my customer? Who did more talking? Did I interrupt the other person? Did I ask clarification questions? Did the subject get changed? Who changed the subject? What will I do differently in my next conversation?
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