by Terrill Fischer

“The customer’s perception is your reality.” ~ Kate Zabriskie

Businessman writing a positive concept Customers come to us all the time with something they want or need. Trying to understand what they want and need isn’t as simple as it might appear. Customer service reps have to Actively Listen to obtain the necessary information and gain a complete understanding from the customer. They also need to maintain the relationship. We can typically speak about 125-200 words per minute. The typical listener can listen to 600-800 words per minute. That means we have the capacity to listen 4 to 5 times faster then others can speak.  So we need to be able to slow down our minds so we can be fully present takes great focus and effort. It is an active choice we can make in every interaction and there are a couple of basic steps to be learned. The First Step is: Pay Attention

  • Give the customer your undivided attention, and acknowledge what they are saying. Also look at their at non-verbal communication which speaks loudly
  • Look at the speaker directly with good eye contact.
  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors like side conversations
  • Don’t mentally prepare what you are going to say in response
  • “Listen” to the speaker’s body language to determine the meaning between the lines.

The Second Step is: Clarifying the Message When speaking to a customer we need to clarify the message they are trying to send. You don’t make assumptions about what the customer wants. We often make false assumptions based on not clarifying the message intended for us. This requires us to listen and reflect back their intended message. Some good phrases to use are, “Let me make sure I understand…” “It sounds like you need…” These two Steps can be practiced through the use of role-playing. Role-playing in customer service training can provide real scenarios where we improvise in situations instead of using a prepared script. How will a restaurant manager react to a frustrated guest demanding a free meal because the kitchen was slow getting the food out that evening? How will the airline service agent respond to a customer whose guitar has been lost? (See the video, ‘United Broke My Guitar’, http://youtu.be/5YGc4zOqozo that went viral)

Playing out scenarios instead of the scripts helps service reps to understand how to react honestly in situations so they can maintain a good relationship with the customer.

The goal is to provide excellent service so the customer can walk away feeling good about doing business with your company. These steps can be learned and practiced on a continual basis. Keep a running list of all the situations customer reps experience. They can be incorporated into the role-playing during future trainings.