Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Guest Blog: Active Listening is the Key to a Successful Customer Experience

This week on our Friends on Friday guest blog post my colleague Richard R. Shapiro, talks about a skill that is crucial to a successful customer experience and increased loyalty, active listening. Pay attention to what customers are saying.  Take advantage of what you are seeing and hearing and then use what you’ve learned to surprise your customers with amazing and exceptional customer service. – Shep Hyken

One of the most useful business courses I ever took was about the practice of active listening. At the start of any conversation, active listening helps build a human connection by listening for, recognizing, and then acknowledging the other person’s underlying emotions.

Every individual who visits your store, contacts your call center, clicks on your website, or sends you an e-mail is in a specific emotional state at that moment. In order to build a human connection and bond, listen carefully and respond to that emotion before addressing the actual reason the customer has come to you.

For example, if someone is calling customer support because a new gadget isn’t working properly, that customer is likely to be annoyed or frustrated. The representative might say, “Mrs. Smith, I understand you are frustrated. Let’s see how I can help resolve this problem.” Once you’ve assured Mrs. Smith that you appreciate how she is feeling, a foundation has been laid for further conversation. Even if her problem is one that can’t be immediately remedied, she is much more likely to be grateful for your attempt to help, simply because you’ve acknowledged how she feels. If the representative misses the mark and identifies the wrong emotion, active listening will get you points for trying. Mrs. Smith will be quick to say, “No, I’m not angry. I’m just really annoyed.” Your interest in her emotional state gives room to respond, “Well, I’m very sorry you’re annoyed and probably disappointed. Let’s see what I can do to help you.” Active and present interest in her emotional well-being allows the conversation to continue.

The important thing to remember is this: it’s not enough to offer your full attention—the customer must feel it.

That is the definition of active listening and what it can achieve. When a customer’s underlying emotion is identified right off the bat, it is reassuring that he or she is seen as a person first and a customer second. A crucial step has been taken toward establishing trust through a meaningful dialogue.

In addition to demonstrating your active listening skills by acknowledging the customer’s emotions, you should also listen for key phrases that allow you to connect better with them. These include:

  • “This is my first time in your store.”
  • “I just moved into the neighborhood.”
  • “My friend suggested I might like your merchandise.”
  • “I have never used your website before.”
  • “This is the first time I’m calling your contact center.”

If you want to test your employees’ listening skills, these are the phrases that should always elicit a response appealing to the customer’s emotional state of mind. A representative who ignores the cue and doesn’t say, “Welcome to the neighborhood! “What brings you here today?” or “I understand this is the first time you are calling us; what can I do to help you?” has failed to show interest in the customer as a person and will likely also fail to develop any bonds that create loyal customers.

It’s nice to be in business, but it’s better to stay in business. The secret sauce is to create and build long term relationships in a brick, click or phone culture that keeps customers coming back forever. Each customer experience should demonstrate active listening skills that make the customer feel in control. This is a necessary step in the journey to sustain long term business growth.

If you’re interesting in developing a road map for long term loyalty, start here by downloading a free chapter of to The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business.

Richard R. Shapiro is Founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) and a leading authority in the area of customer satisfaction and loyalty.  For 27 years, Richard has spearheaded the research conducted with thousands of customers from Fortune 100 and 500 companies amassing the ingredients of customer loyalty and what drives repeat business.  His first book was The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business and The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business, is available on February 1

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