This is part one of a three-part article on Customer Service. As in great customer service, the sort of service that knocks your socks clean off!
In my previous career in the Financial Services, I was sent on lots of courses about customer service…some good, some bad and some downright ugly! When you work for a large organisation that offers broadly the same services as all its competitors – how you treat your customers can be the one thing that sets you apart from the crowd. As a member of Head Office staff, I often felt very removed from the ‘actual’ customers that we all worked for. Now I run my own business my customer is EVERYTHING!!
In my humble opinion, knock your socks off customer service boils down to three key components; Listen, Respond and Delight. As this article is in three parts (it’s like I planned it!!) I’m going to start with Listening.
Active listening is a skill (those who used to work for me will be rolling their eyes now if they are reading this, as I used to go on about it ALL THE TIME!!). If you are not paying attention to your boss, your significant other, or your kids when they are speaking to you, how are they supposed to take you seriously? How can you expect them to come to you for advice, or to share important stuff? If my customer is telling me about a particular person they want a photograph with at their wedding and I’m not actively listening…I can’t go back and capture that moment at a later date, can I?
Sitting and making eye-contact with the person talking to you is a start, but are you really absorbing what they are saying? More importantly, are you responding in a way that communicates you are actually listening? Okay, it’s true – you are unlikely to care about every conversation someone starts with you…but the point is…whilst the topic being discussed isn’t important to you, IT IS to the person telling you. Active listening shows you care.
Okay, you might be thinking, I’ll nod along or add the odd “I see”, “Mmhmm” or “cool”, that will show I’m listening, right? Well,…they aren’t exactly active phrases. In fact, they are more likely to be interpreted as passive listening and the person will come away thinking you’ve heard them, but probably don’t care. Unlikely to elicit a warm fuzzy feeling from your customer either (at this point their socks are still firmly on!).
Here are some phrases that you can incorporate into conversations to show you are actively listening. Keep them in mind the next time you feel your attention starts to drift, an alert pops up on your phone, or you start thinking ahead to what you’re going to say.
“Do you mean…?”, “I’m not sure I understand.”, or “Could you tell me a bit more about that?” – These types of phrases make sure you are interpreting what the person has said correctly. They also help the person to open up and ensure you get the full story.
“It sounds like…”, “what I’m hearing is…” or “you seem a bit…” – Phrases like these demonstrate empathy and an attempt to interpret the person’s emotions.
“Really?”, “When?”, “How?”, or “You’re kidding.” – This helps to encourage the person speaking to elaborate more.
“I’ve noticed that…” – This shows the person how much attention you’re paying. You’re not just hearing the words they are saying you are seeing the non-verbal communication too.
“Let me make sure I’ve got this right” or “Let’s make sure I’m hearing you correctly” – summarising what you’ve heard so far is a great way to show you’ve been paying attention and to check understanding.
“I’m sorry. That’s awful”, “what a crappy situation to be in”, or “That’s rough. How can I help?” – Here you are acknowledging the person wants a quick pity party before launching straight into advice. You’re pausing to provide empathy and allow the person to work through what is bothering them.
Okay, I’ll stop now as you are probably thinking ‘holy s&it I have enough on my plate without having to do all this guff as well!’. But from a customer’s shoes…I reckon being listened, really listened to must be pretty high up on their socks being knocked off list!
If you want to see if you are a good listener – HubSpot has a great quiz that is a two-minute read, (they also have a much longer, more comprehensive article on Active Listening if you are interested – it’s where I got a lot of my inspiration for this piece from!).
Part two on Responding to customers will be coming soon.