Hearing is involuntary, but listening is an acquired skill. Listening involves more than noticing noise emitting from a mouth. Simply not listening properly can waste valuable resources and lead to lost customers. It is especially important in small business where some people wear multiple hats, are chasing deadlines, and moving and speaking fast that their listening is a core competency. Actively learning about listening is the key to keeping customer service levels at their best.
Five Listening Lessons:
- Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood by challenging yourself to view things through another person’s eyes. The more you listen and hear their side first, the better informed you are when it’s your turn to speak.
- Be a human mirror. We appreciate when others hang on to our every word. Yet, if we don’t first listen to them so we can lock onto their communication style and mirror it back to them, we might as well be speaking different languages. For instance, if you’re brainstorming with a coworker who thoughtfully chooses every word, your brilliant idea might zip by them if you spew sentences at the speed of light. The same goes for the decibel level. Your pithy points may not register if you overwhelm their soft-spoken sensibilities with bluster.
- Value the speaker as well as the speech. It’s easy for people to tell when someone is listening against them instead of to them. Stiff and rigid body language combined with a lack of facial expression can immediately turn customers off. Conversely, a caring approach with a smile, leaning into the conversation, and eye contact lets customers know that they are taken seriously. Turn your mindset to “what’s right with what she’s saying and how can I learn from it?” Rather than “what’s wrong and how can I object to it?” An employee who actively listens sets the tone for the entire company.
- Hear the Unspoken. Subtle messages flow through facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Understanding the basics of these unspoken messages before the customer even speaks allows you to start helping the customer as soon as they arrive, especially if they are distraught this allows you to be attentive to their situation.
- Repeat What You Hear. Of course, you will not imitate the speaker but you can play back your interpretation of what you heard. Paraphrasing their messages shows that you listened carefully and gives you both a chance to clear up miscommunication. Remember that one of our deepest desires is to be heard.
Active listening is grounded in courtesy, empathy, and a desire for clarity at all costs. You don’t have to agree with what you hear, but your attentiveness and attitude speak the unspoken. Understand where you’re coming from. Practiced conscientiously, active listening engenders trust, reduces errors, and encourages people to speak their mind. This will excel your level of customer service to the next level.