Question: How can I be a better listener?

Answers from frontline reps —


Listening is one of the most important skills that we can ever have. How well we listen will have a major impact on our job effectiveness, as well as on the quality of the relationships that we have with others. We have learned to listen for many different reasons. We listen so that we can obtain information, we listen to understand others, we listen to enjoy ourselves in our day-to-day lives, and we listen to learn.

Just because we hear the words that someone is speaking doesn’t mean that we are actually listening as we should be. Have you ever been speaking with someone, and you know that you clearly stated what it is that you wanted done, and yet what actually has been done isn’t at all what you asked for. That’s because, while they were listening, they weren’t engaged in listening, and it basically goes in one ear and out the other.

When we are dealing with our customers, we need to make sure that we are engaged in actively listening to what it is that they want from us. If we aren’t, customers are not going to get what they want or they could be promised something that you actually have no way to fulfill. In the end, it will be the customer that suffers, which in turn will make your business suffer.

We all have to constantly make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying to us but, more importantly, we have to try to understand the complete message that is being sent. In order for us to actually do this, we must pay close attention to the other person.

We must remember that we can’t allow ourselves to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around us, or by forming rebuttals that we are going to make when the other person stops talking. Also, we can’t allow ourselves to get bored and lose focus on what the other person is saying. If we allow ourselves to do this, we basically have already checked out of the conversation before it is over, and this can lead to some major mistakes and potentially angry customers.

Jo Sprowl, SKF USA Inc.


Great service and engaged listening skills go hand-in-hand. If you truly listen to what your customer is saying, your mind will find solutions easier and quicker than if you approach your customers, and their needs, as numbers.

My best tip to become a better listener is to be fully present. Being there and being aware are powerful tools. It is easy to become preoccupied and allow your mind be infiltrated with external and internal distractions. Don’t do it! Focus on the customer you are speaking with at that exact moment and devote all your attention to him or her specifically. Allowing yourself to be present with your customers shows them that you respect their needs and are invested in their solutions. Self-awareness is key to becoming more present. Assess yourself, and notice when you feel that you’re being distracted while engaging with a customer. Evaluate the conversation after it’s over, and give yourself actionable items to work on during your next interaction.

Another thought for becoming a more present listener is to listen for understanding and not just in anticipation of your turn to talk. If you listen empathetically, you can’t help but put yourself in your customer’s shoes. By feeling you can connect to what they’re going through, you can assess their needs more acutely and accurately.

Megann Wither, Navy Federal Credit Union


Engage right away. Give the customer your full attention. Don’t multi-task while on the phone, but do take notes to help yourself remember what needs to be done later on.
Ask open-ended questions to get more information. You may discover that the real issue lies deeper than what the customer is saying. Cue in on the customer’s tone of voice.

People who are naturally soft-spoken or non-confrontational may find it difficult to articulate a serious problem. Sometimes the opposite is true: people who speak in a loud, rough manner may just be looking to vent about something relatively inconsequential. If their day is going badly or they’re annoyed about something unrelated, they may project their frustration onto you without realizing it. Try not to get defensive. Say something like “I’m sorry that happened, but we’ll do our best to resolve it for you.”

From time to time, ask a question or repeat what the customer said to show that you’ve heard and correctly understood the customer’s concerns. At the end of the call, ask the customer if there is more that needs to be addressed. If not, verbally summarize the key points of the conversation and propose next steps. Before hanging up, ask the customer one last time if there is anything else you can do for him. Thank him for calling.

Kate Frazier, Ball Horticultural Company


Good listening is key to all that follows — meaning a positive customer care experience or a negative one. Good listening means that you are hearing what the customer is saying and maybe not saying as well.

Actually, we are now experiencing a large increase in the number of inbound calls, a very large increase, as a result of a billing change, and although the call is fairly straight forward, it is challenging to remain interested in the conversation when you are repeating the same information 100 times in a single shift. What I have been doing is making sure I am letting the customer finish their thought, instead of jumping in because I am assuming what they would like to do. I listen until they are finished; I use my head set, and if needed, I plug an ear to block out the other “noise” from the office.

Angela Twohig, The Chronicle Herald

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