How to Develop the Art of Listening for More Satisfied Customers
By Sam Frampton
As a customer-centric business, listening is at the heart of what you do. Providing better CX is all about listening to customer feedback to discover what people are loving about your product and what needs to be improved. Whether it’s building out a voice of the customer program or a customer journey map, developing the art of listening can help you to better communicate with your audience as well as your internal CX team.
Take a look at our 10 actionable tips below to learn how you can improve your listening skills for better customer experience. Jump to art of listening infographic.
10 Ways to Master the Art of Listening for Both Your Customers and Team
Though listening seems like an automatic skill, there’s no doubt that some are better at it than others. Here are 10 things to think about during your next conversation (virtual or in-person) to make sure you’re making the other party feel heard.
1. Focus on Understanding, Not Your Response
One of the worst habits when it comes to bad listening is not actually paying attention to what the other person is saying, and instead concentrating only on your response. We all know someone like this, the type who doesn’t actually address what the other person is saying and instead replies with something just vaguely related.
Sometimes this is an issue of nerves if the person is feeling uncertain about sounding intelligent in their reply. To combat this, make sure you are fully paying attention to the other party before speaking. If it takes a few moments longer to formulate a response, that’s actually okay as it shows you took the time to listen instead of concentrating on yourself.
Example: A customer calls your company’s support line about a software install issue. Instead of just listening to the first sentence and assuming it’s the most common type of error, the rep should instead pay close attention to all the details to ensure they’re providing correct and quick information for that specific situation. Otherwise, the customer will likely feel ignored, annoyed, and undervalued.
2. Let Notes Take a Backseat
Though note-taking certainly has its place when it comes to remembering important details, in most interactions, it’s actually better to concentrate your full energy on the conversation at hand and take notes after. Studies have shown that this is because when we type notes, we’re doing something called “non-generative” recording; typing nearly verbatim what the speaker is saying instead of actually learning it.
Though non-generative note-taking is good for remembering specific points, understanding the broader themes and context in a conversation is more helpful for overall understanding. If you’re a diehard note-taker, you should know that taking notes by hand, or “generative” recording, has been shown to be better for remembering concepts than typing. This is because writing is slower and forces us to summarize and draw the main themes from the speaker right away.
Example: You’re conducting face-to-face interviews to gather feedback for your new product. While interviewing the participants, you open a Google Doc and try to type down verbatim what each customer has to say. Though this helps you remember a few details later down the line, you realize you didn’t listen closely enough to be able to extract important themes from the session and actually understand the customer feedback.
3. Ask Clarifying Questions
One of the best ways to demonstrate that you’re listening to someone is to ask them clarifying questions throughout the interaction. This shows that you are tuned in enough to what they’re saying to be able to question things on a deeper level, which takes a high degree of concentration.
Examples of these types of questions could be “Can you expand on what you mean by X?”, “Why do you think you feel that way about X”, and “What can we do to fix problem X that you mentioned?”.
Example: A customer responds to an open-ended feedback survey with several sentences about why they don’t like your updated product as much as the old one. The response is routed to a CX team member who gets in contact with the customer to ask “We saw you said you preferred our old product to the update. Could you clarify which features you preferred in the old version?”
The customer is satisfied to learn their feedback was really listened to and provides you in turn with valuable points about improving your product.
4. Summarize to Make Them Feel Heard
Often going hand in hand with the previous point is the technique of repeating statements back to the other person. Not only does this demonstrate that you’re fully paying attention to what they’re saying, but it also ensures that you both are on the same page about what was communicated.
Examples of these types of questions could be “You mentioned that you really like X product. Would you say it’s your favorite in our lineup?” or “So you think we could improve by making X feature more accessible, is that right?”.
Example: A new CX team member just finished putting together a report on the latest round of customer survey feedback with a few recommended action items. You follow up with an email summarizing the action items and confirming with them on the direction and responsibility for each.
Not only does this allow your new team member to feel valued and listened to, but it also ensures that you share an understanding of the action items and can work together more efficiently on CX changes.
5. Follow Up on the Discussion
Once again, to continue the previous point (you can see how all the art of listening techniques work together!) follow-ups are an important part of closing the loop on the interaction.
Much like summary questions, follow-ups allow you to make sure you’re on the same page as everyone else, but more importantly to demonstrate that you are in fact taking the feedback to heart and are working on specific actions to address it. Follow-ups let you tell customers that they’re not being forgotten and that you value their input, even if you can’t take action on it right away.
Example: You have a number of customers who leave in-depth feedback in your last round of surveys. To let them know that you appreciate their insights and time, you send a follow-up email with a discount code letting them know you are working on implementing their suggestions. Then, you continue to work to close the feedback loop by updating them on your progress in the following weeks and months.
6. Suspend Judgement Until Later
We humans are judgy creatures, constantly evaluating and asserting our opinion on every little thing. Really, we can’t help it as this is how our brains process the world around us. To develop the art of listening, you should try to suspend this natural inclination while in an important conversation, and instead reserve judgement for after.
By not automatically weighing and analyzing each little detail, you will be able to avoid jumping to conclusions or coming off as defensive, and instead take the feedback at face value.
Example: During a phone call with an important customer, they give you harsh feedback about your customer service team, even though this is an aspect of your business you’ve been working hard to improve. Instead of judging their comments in the moment as untrue and exaggerated, you listen openly and take in their feedback.
When you review the conversation later, you realize that they do have valid points. By staying open-minded and avoiding defensiveness, you actually received valuable input that will help you improve CX operations at your company.
7. Don’t Fill Awkward Pauses
Another immensely human instinct is to feel uncomfortable with silence. To compensate, many of us end up filling in the pauses in conversation with mindless chatter or small talk. The urge to do this is definitely understandable but is something to work on if you want to develop the art of listening.
Sometimes pauses are actually necessary to allow the other party to gather their thoughts and respond honestly. Filling in the silence may make you come across as nervous and takes away opportunities for the other person to give feedback, especially if they are less assertive in conversation.
Example: One of your quieter CX team members comes to you with a new idea based on recent customer feedback. Though the conversation takes a little while to get going, you concentrate on not filling the silences in order to give them the opportunity to speak and show that you want to hear their ideas.
Because you give them the space to share, you’re able to have a productive discussion and add the idea to the next CX team meeting.
8. Concentrate on High-Level Themes
As we touched on in #2, being a good listener is about remembering themes and emotions more than details. Think of it like this: asking a friend to remind you again where they’re applying for a job (detail) is more acceptable than asking them to remind you why they’re stressed out (upcoming interview = high-level theme).
In other words, the why is usually more important than the what. In CX especially, identifying these overarching themes is the primary goal of conducting customer feedback in the first place, so you can work to address them and improve the experience for everyone.
Example: While analyzing your surveys, you notice a number of individual responses relating to your site’s check-out process. Although each response included different details, you’re able to extract wider themes that are true for all. From there, you realize that a plugin is causing slow loading times on the check-out page which is leading to users bouncing and leaving their carts abandoned.
9. Exude Genuine Interest
We’re told not to let “verbal static” interfere when giving a speech or presentation, but there is actually a place for filler words in conversation. When the other party is speaking, it’s polite and attentive to respond with “mhmm’s,” “yea’s,” and other affirmations to show that you’re engaged with what they’re saying.
This helps to show your genuine interest and is the sign of a good listener. Take note of this the next time you have a conversation with someone, you’ll notice that it makes a big difference if they don’t use these filler sounds.
Example: As a customer service manager, a client complaint gets escalated to you from another rep. The customer on the phone is irate that their issues haven’t been resolved, but you manage to turn them around by using verbal fillers to show you empathize with their situation. With your expert listening skills, they calm down and you’re able to help, therefore saving a customer who may have churned otherwise.
10. Pay Attention to Body Language
Though most customer feedback comes through digital channels like feedback surveys, paying attention to body language is always a must when you find yourself in face-to-face situations. One of the most well-known studies on the importance of body language was conducted by Dr. Mehrabian in 1967 and postulates that a whopping 55% of our “liking” of a person can be detected from facial expressions alone. In addition to what the other person says in a conversation, you also should be monitoring signals like:
- Facial expression
- Eye contact
- Eye direction
- Body stance
Paying attention to these factors is part of developing the art of listening because it allows you insights into a person’s emotions, which they may not be explicitly vocalizing.
Example: While hosting a webinar for some of your most important customers on how to use your new tool, you notice that many of their videos show expressions of puzzlement (furrowed brows and pursed lips) or they aren’t making eye contact with the screen.
Though none of them speak up when asked if they have questions, you’re able to infer that something in the presentation wasn’t clear. By asking a few more clarifying questions, you’re able to figure out where the disconnect happened and provide a better explanation for your customers.
For a summary of these tips for developing the art of listening and connecting better with your customers and CX team, take a look at the infographic below:
The key to good CX is communication, and this starts with becoming a better listener. By developing these 10 strategies, you can better understand your customers and their needs, and work more effectively with your CX team to implement changes that will really affect the bottom line.