One of my favorite Seattle coffee shops is in the Capitol Hill district of Seattle. My wife and I stopped there this past weekend for a coffee (this is Seattle, after all) and a pastry. While we were waiting in line, one of the baristas, an attractive and mysterious-looking woman, her shoulders festooned with tattoos, was arranging packaged coffee on a nearby shelf. Given the unique choices she made in her appearance, I wondered if she might have an equally unique favorite coffee. (Yes, I was stereotyping. We all do.) So, I asked her what her favorite was. She replied that lots of people liked one type of coffee, while many others preferred a different one. I wasn’t interested in what was most popular, I was interested in her particular recommendation. (One of my favorite things to do is to introduce myself to new tastes by asking people in the food business for their personal recommendations.)
It’s About Listening
The barista was really trying to be helpful. She was pleasant and knowledgeable, but she needs to work on her listening skills. Many of us, perhaps most of us, can easily fall into the trap of listening attentively, but not listening so we understand what’s being said. When your customer or end user is explaining a problem or asking a question, do you jump to conclusions, thinking you’ve heard the same problem many times before? It’s easy to do and it’s one of the biggest problems in today’s world. We assume we know what the other person is going to say or we assume that, just because we’ve heard similar problems many times before, this time is no different. It may not be any different from the previous problems, or it may be completely different. You won’t know until the customer or end user finishes explaining it.
Five Rules for Being a Good Listener
Here are five rules for being a good listener:
- Let the other person finish. Don’t make assumptions about what the other person is going to say.
- Quiet the voices in your mind. They’re the voices that finish sentences for the other person (even if you don’t say it out loud). They’re also the voices that are preparing your response to what the other person is saying. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about your customer or end user. He or she deserves your full attention and nothing less.
- Ask questions for clarification and to probe for deeper meaning. When we ask questions for clarification, we’re engaging with the other person. Asking questions forces us to pay attention to the other person.
- Lose distractions. It’s tempting, when on the phone or in a chat session, to multitask. Don’t do it. The other person can tell and, frankly, it’s just rude. Focus on the other person. If you can’t, for whatever reason, apologize and explain to the customer or end user that you need to finish the task at hand so you can focus on helping her or him. (For more on this subject, see Professor Clifford Nass’ studies on media multitasking.)
- Stop talking. It’s amazing to me how often customer service reps seem to steamroll conversations. They don’t stop talking long enough to hear what the other person is saying. Then, when the customer or end user starts to say something, the rep jumps in over them.
The key to being a good listener is pretty simple. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about your customer or end user. They’re the reason we have jobs and they deserve our full, focused attention.
For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills
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