Sometimes the best thing you can say to a customer is less overall. In fact, improving your listening skills is one of the best things you can do to improve customer service.

We can use the blanket term ‘active listening’ to describe the kinds of skills we’ll be discussing in this guide. Specifically, we’ll be asking:

  • What is active listening?
  • Why is active listening important for customer service?
  • How can I improve my active listening skills?

What is active listening?

Active listening is a technique that was first used in therapy, but the benefits transfer into a lot of different areas, including customer service. It refers to a pattern of listening that keeps you actively engaged with the person you’re speaking to.

It’s all about being attentive, reflecting, and not being judgemental. Successful active listening makes the other person feel valued in their opinions, so it’s a great way to help customers feel heard and appreciated.

Practically speaking, some common characteristics of active listening are:

  • Neutral and nonjudgmental attitude
  • Patience
  • Verbal and nonverbal feedback (smiling, eye contact, leaning in, mirroring)
  • Asking questions
  • Reflecting back on what is said
  • Asking for clarification
  • Summarising

Think of yourself like a therapist talking to a client. You’re there as a sounding board, instead of interrupting with your own opinions, recommendations, and ideas.


Why is it important?

Active listening builds a strong foundation for any meaningful conversation. It gives your customer service team the tools they need to turn any customer interaction into a positive experience.

The truth is, we can’t always resolve every customer’s issue. Active listening gives you the best shot of finding out how to help. At the very least, it’ll make the customer feel valued.

Specifically, better listening skills will improve customer service by helping you:

  • Establish empathy
  • Solve problems
  • Keep the focus on the customer
  • Get valuable feedback

Establish empathy

If a customer doesn’t believe they’re being listened to, they’re far more likely to feel frustrated and take their business somewhere else.

The worst thing an employee can do is assume they know how a customer is feeling, instead of listening for emotional cues and taking the time to really understand their emotional state

For example, let’s say a customer calls up with a complaint. If you take the time to listen to their feelings and put yourself in their shoes, it’s much easier to get them on your side.

When they call up, it can sometimes feel like you vs the customer. Empathising puts you both on the same side – it’s both of you vs the problem.

Solve problems

Customer service members too often rush to try and solve the problem without listening to the whole story. This isn’t a bad instinct, it’s their job after all, but it can sometimes come across as brazen or uncaring. The truth is, sometimes the customers themselves don’t even know what they really want.

Actively listening and empathising with customers is the only real way to know the best way to help a customer. Listen properly, and the customer will let you know the best way to help them. All you have to do is listen.

Keep the focus on the customer

As the name suggests, customer service should focus on the customer. Active listening ensures that their wants and needs drive the entire conversation.

As an example, customer service members can all too often offer a wide variety of products and services that can overwhelm the customer.

Successful active listening will tell you precisely what the customer needs, so you can offer them a couple of meaningful options. As a result, they’ll be less baffled by all the options while knowing that you really are trying to help them.

Reduce Miscommunication

Miscommunication is one of the most dangerous mistakes in customer service. Not feeling heard or appreciated can lead to frustration and complaints.

If the customer is in touch for a complaint in the first place, miscommunication will often be the final straw that convinces them to leave. Active listening is the best safeguard against miscommunication and bad customer service.

Get valuable feedback

Long term, active listening is the best way to improve your business operations. Customers are the best source of information and feedback, so you should try your best to use them as a resource.

Have your customer service staff take notes about the kinds of complaints they are getting. Not just what customers are saying, but how they feel and what’s leading to their frustration.

How can I improve my active listening skills?

Here are some easy tips you can use to improve active listening with customers:

  • Maintain eye contact with the customer. Generally speaking, you want to aim for eye contact about 60% of the time. Too much could be a little scary.
  • Don’t fold your arms while talking. This is guarded body language that will make you feel less approachable.
  • Paraphrase what the customer has said instead of offering before trying to offer a solution. For example, you could say “okay, if I understand, what you’re saying is…”.
  • Wait until the customer has finished talking before you prepare a response. The last thing they say might change the meaning of what has already been said.
  • As well as what they say, pay close attention to the customer’s body language. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical movements can tell you a lot.
  • Show interest by asking open-ended questions to encourage the customer to speak. Don’t use too many closed yes-or-no questions; they tend to shut down the conversation.
  • Be patient, open, and neutral. Treat them like people first and try not to be judgemental.

Remember, every customer is different. What works for one person might not work for another. But if you get into these listening habits, you’ll be well on your way to better customer service

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