Whether your call center is a customer service desk, a tech support center, a public safety answering point, a sales division, or anything in between, the most important aspect of each agent’s job is listening.
Think about it. Yes, they’re there to fix problems, make sales, or help people. But all of those things are impossible to do without that vital first step – listening effectively to the person on the other end of the phone.
We hear about the importance of good listening skills all the time, but isn’t it strange that almost no one ever actually teaches people how to listen? We learn to read, write, and speak effectively in school, but classes on effective listening are extremely few and far between.
We’d like to change that today, by offering you this list of the five stages of effective listening, and how to train your agents in each one, whether you run a PSAP or a contact center.
Stage 1: Receiving
At this stage in the listening process, the agent should be focused on receiving the caller’s message. This entails more than just hearing the words, however: agents should try to receive what the caller is actually saying, but also what their unspoken, underlying message is. It’s important that the agent listens both to what is said and what is not said. Omitting certain things can be just as significant as talking about them. It is also vital that the agent listens to the caller’s tone of voice and other nonverbal cues – they can be just as telling as words, and sometimes even more so. In order to help agents receive the message in each call effectively, have them focus entirely on the call. There should be no distractions in the environment around them, they should be sure not to interrupt the caller, and they should avoid trying to plan out their response in advance, instead focusing all their attention on the speaker.
Stage 2: Understanding
Making sure agents truly understand the caller’s message is the next step. Train them not to make assumptions or judgments about the caller’s message before they hear it completely, as that might cause them to misunderstand. The best way to ensure true understanding is to ask the caller questions if clarification is needed, and then restate the message back to them for verification.
Stage 3: Remembering
In order for an agent to be able to take action in response to a call, he or she must be able to remember the entire message. Teaching agents to focus on finding the central idea or ideas in a caller’s message, and organizing information heard into easily remembered categories, will help them to keep all the key points of the call in mind as they search for a solution.
Stage 4: Evaluating
This stage can be the most difficult of all. Evaluating a caller’s message requires that an agent be able to distinguish fact from opinion, as well as whether the caller might have any bias or slant coloring their perception of things. Train agents to listen for certain words or statements that indicate such a bias or personal interpretation of events might be in play.
Stage 5: Responding
It’s important for agents to respond to their callers throughout the conversation by giving small affirmations to show they are listening, such as “I see,” or “mm-hmm.” But don’t let them give in to the temptation to complete the person’s sentences for them. And finally, teach your agents to focus completely on the other person in their final response, using what they’ve just listened to so effectively as the guide for responding to their needs in the most appropriate way for their individual situation.