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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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Customer Service 2 – Listening


Last time I said that, for me, there are four fundamental things that make the difference between poor customer service and outstanding customer service. These are: A foundation of knowledge and basic skills, listening, empathy and flexibility.

This time I want to consider the important role listening plays in customer service. We’ve all experienced occasions when we’ve thought, “Why didn’t you just listen?” perhaps when a sales assistant was intent on selling us a product that didn’t meet our needs or ignored a simple request.

It’s frustrating isn’t it? But hearing what the customer says, and acting on it, is only part of the story. Listening is much more than hearing. It’s about recognising the implications of what a customer tells you, asking the right questions to build a better understanding of their needs and wants, actively seeking feedback and using information from customers to improve service further in the future.

Let’s consider a simple scenario, where a businessman is booking a hotel room:
"Hello, I’d like to book a room for tonight please.”
“OK – can I take your name?”
“OK Mr Pervis, that’s all booked for you.”
“Oh, sorry, can I have a quiet room at the back please. I’ve got a long journey to get to you and an early start tomorrow and I want to make sure I get some sleep.”
“Of course sir.”

The customer has been listened to. Hasn’t he? Well, yes, and no.

The customer has mentioned that he has a long journey and will be tired on arrival. An effective listener will ask some questions that might identify other customer needs – for example, what time will he be arriving?

Why is that important? Well, if he’s had a long journey and then, on arrival, finds that the restaurant is closed, he won’t be delighted. By asking the right questions now, you might be able to avoid problems later; in this case by alerting the customer to the potential problem. And you might create an opportunity to delight your customer; perhaps by offering to prepare some sandwiches for his arrival.

It’s about more than words too – listening, true listening, involves hearing pitch and tone of voice, hesitation, even accents. Why accents? Well, being able to identify an accent is actually a great way of building rapport with a customer: 
“Is that a Yorkshire accent?” 
“Whereabouts are you from?”
“Well Harrogate originally, but I live near York now.”
“Oh, I love that part of the world. My Aunt lives in a village called Helperby about 20 miles from Harrogate and York. Do you know it?”

And, when dealing with customers face to face, we need to ‘listen’ to body language too. What customers tell us through their actions and posture is as important as their words. Perhaps they’re tapping their fingers impatiently, looking at their watch, edging towards the door…

Rod Webb

Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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