To provide superior service, service employees will need to listen at least as much as they talk about their products and services.

Effective communication goes in both directions. While there is a lot of attention on communication in client interactions, an important aspect of other (client)-centred listening often takes a back seat.

When you combine other (client)-centred listening with effective communication, it is possible to promote open dialogue to better understand a client’s needs and expectations in the service encounter.

Other (client)-centred listening is different from merely hearing. It takes effort to understand the client’s needs, expectations and feelings underlying the communication. When the client feels that the other person has not listened to him, the encounter can be frustrating and unproductive.

 

What is other (client)-centred listening?

Other (client)-centred listening means paying attention to the words a customer uses, his intent, body language and tone of voice.

The service employee listens to the client by keeping an open mind and avoiding making judgments about what is said. A biased listener thinks he already knows what the client is going to say, so he does not take the time required to hear him out.

Don’t make assumptions

He assumes a full understanding right from the start of the conversation, and jumps in and interrupts the client. A biased listener can discourage the client from explaining the issues on his mind and miss the opportunity to close the service gap.

Research says people speak at an average rate of roughly 150 words a minute, while a listener can listen at about 600 words a minute.

As a service employee, you may have the tendency to think ahead, assume you know what the client will say next and rehearse your response. By concentrating on what is being said in the present, you do not lose focus as a biased listener.

 

Show respect

You can show respect for what your client is saying by focusing on what is being said and showing you are really listening through verbal affirmation and appropriate body language.

Demonstrate your interest by leaning forward in your chair. Avoid crossing your arms over your chest (it can make you seem aloof) and put down your mobile phone. Make a conscious effort to focus entirely on your client.

It is vital to read his body language too. Not making eye contact with you and drumming his fingers on the table may be signs that he is losing interest or is frustrated with the proceedings.

By observing what makes your client smile or frown, you can identify and diffuse pressure areas. Reassure him you have understood what he wants by reiterating key words of the conversation, and paraphrasing his core needs and expectations.

To avoid misunderstandings, when your client wants something specific, seek clarification if there are any aspects that you do not fully understand.

Paraphrase what he asked for to confirm whether your interpretation is correct. Paraphrasing also demonstrates your interest in what he is saying and your sincerity to get it right.

It is crucial to hone your listening skills through these simple techniques by focusing on your client and creating satisfaction and loyalty. You will be better prepared to meet or exceed his needs and expectations, and enjoy a fruitful interaction with him too.

 

Article by Seow Bee Leng, the principal trainer of Continuum Learning, which focuses on a wide range of service competencies including customer service mindset (self-efficacy), service values, service clues and service micro-skills. For more information, e-mail beeleng@continuumlearning.com or visit www.continuumlearning.com