It All Starts With Listening

Lauren Krause
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Listening skills are arguably the most important qualification for customer service professionals. When an agent takes the time to hear out the customer, he can gather all of the necessary information and design a more effective solution. Listening also helps the caller feel heard and validated, which goes a long way in diffusing tension and negative emotion.

Listening Basics

Listening skills involve far more than staying quiet while a customer speaks. During phone calls and in-person meetings, agents should give their full attention to the speaker. Even a small sign of distraction or preoccupation can negate the entire exchange. A quiet, calm environment can go a long way in improving service quality. Agents must help the customer feel comfortable enough to speak openly and empathize with the problem. Professionals with excellent listening skills also know when to speak and when to stay silent to allow a caller to collect his thoughts before continuing. Most importantly, agents must take the time to understand the full issue before plunging into a solution.

Employee Training

It is a rare occasion when all agents in a customer service department have the same listening skills. Specialized training can help workers get on the same page and work together to develop strategies that are tailored to the company and its customers. An important component of a successful training program is helping employees learn to recognize different types of callers. Customers who hesitate may need leading questions before they reveal the full problem; others may need agents to practice active listening. The training should identify strategies to get each type of customer talking. During listening training sessions, it can be helpful to incorporate open discussion about common customer problems between newer and more experienced employees.

Reading Between the Lines

In many cases, basic listening skills are not enough to provide excellent service — agents must also be able to hear what the customer is not saying. Non-verbal cues, the caller's tone of voice and sentence fragments can all be clues to the big-picture problem. By reading between the lines, agents can identify unexpressed needs that are causing stress or hesitation. With that information, agents can offer resources and help create a complete, positive experience. In order for employees to feel confident while exercising these advanced listening skills, they must be given the authority to offer custom solutions. Companies that successfully anticipate customers' needs and solve them proactively are certain to stand out from the competition.

Many professionals build listening skills over time, learning from their mistakes and gaining exposure to a wider range of people. By making listening an important part of organized employee development, however, you can encourage rapid growth and establish a solid reputation for responsive and effective service.


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