Customer Relationships: Practicing Active Listening

All customers are different. If you know how to ask questions and listen, they will communicate their request, but also who they are, what their values are, their beliefs, their emotions. Understanding customers perfectly will help you gain their trust. Understanding customers and their requests will then help you decide how to obtain their support for your proposed solution.

Customer Relationships: Practicing Active Listening
Customer Relationships: Practicing Active Listening

About This Course

Encouraging customers to talk when making contact. Asking the right questions. Managing obstacles to mutual understanding. Using the right techniques to achieve empathic listening.

Objectives

At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • Achieve a successful first contact
  • Listen to customers and their requests in the manner expected
  • Ask the right questions in order to assess their requests
  • Avoid comprehension pitfalls and recognize obstacles
  • Combine listening and empathy in order to improve efficiency

Content Summary

Welcome
conditions that encourage customers to express themselves
An effective line of questioning
Obstacles to mutual understanding
Empathetic listening
Conclusion
Synthesis

Welcome

All customers are different. If you know how to ask questions and listen, they will communicate their requests, but also much more than that: who they are, what their values are, their beliefs, their emotions. Over the course of this module, you will learn to:

  • Create the conditions that encourage customers to express themselves
  • Pursue an effective line of questioning with the customer
  • Recognize obstacles to mutual understanding
  • Listen empathetically

All customers are different. If you know how to ask questions and listen, they will communicate their request, but also much more than that: who they are, what their values are, their beliefs, their emotions.

Understanding customers perfectively will help you gain their trust. Understanding customers and their requests will then help you decide how to obtain their support for your proposed solution.

conditions that encourage customers to express themselves

Introduction

To succeed in your first contacts, you will…

  • Situate the session within the larger context of the customer interaction
  • Identify the mistakes to avoid
  • Review your professional practice: What about you? What do you do when you establish contact with a customer?

Our opinions about others are generally shaped within the first few moments of meeting them. Your first step is to concentrate on the first contact with the customer, with the goal of giving a good impression at this crucial juncture!

Situating the session within the larger context of the customer interaction

The path to success in customer interactions is divided into 5 steps.

The first step, connecting with the person, is absolutely essential: it sets the atmosphere for the next step, noting the customer’s needs.

It is difficult, maybe even impossible, to engage in constructive dialog without first welcoming the customer as a person, as an individual.

The path to success in customer interactions is divided into 5 steps.
The path to success in customer interactions is divided into 5 steps.

Errors to avoid: It is important to give a good impression when the meeting begins.

For each of these individuals, identify the errors to avoid when engaging with customers, and check the image that seems problematic.

To give a favorable impression to the customer, be particularly attentive to your facial expressions, your attire, your gestures, and your words.

Errors to avoid: The first 20 seconds are crucial for making a good impression.

Click on each item to learn more about the major errors to avoid.

Your facial expressions
The customer can see you. It is difficult to open up to someone who is closed off and avoids eye contact. On the phone, a closed facial expression can be heard in your voice. Avoid a closed, dour facial expression

Your attire
If you are face to face, the customer can sense your emotions.If you are out of step with your professional milieu or your company’s image, the customer will not see you as a representative of the company. Avoid a disheveled or unkempt attire

Your gesture
The customer is watching (or picturing) you.
When you are withdrawn, too intrusive/distant, or animated/inhibited, you cause the customer to withdraw. Avoid a closed posture, an evasive gaze, inappropriate gestures, being too close or too far, being preoccupied, etc.
On the phone: focusing on other things, speaking to someone else, etc.

Your voice and word choice
The customer can hear you.
When you are negative, off-topic, demeaning to yourself or the customer, who would want to place their trust in you? Avoid a dull, monotonous, or shrill voice. On the phone: your words and your voice are your only instruments for communicating with the customer. The impact of your voice and choice of words is greatly increased!

Errors to avoid

Best practices for “Connecting with the Person”:

  • Wear appropriate attire (if face to face)
  • Make eye contact with the customer (if face to face).
  • Introduce yourself with your name/position, and then greet the customer.
  • Your tone should be measured, energetic, and cheerful.
  • Listen to the customer’s voice, observe their body language, and adjust accordingly.
  • Invite the customer to express themselves by posing an open question.

Taking stock of your first contact with the customer

Here is an exercise so you can assess how you handle the first contact.

For each option, indicate the degree to which the description applies to you. ALWAYS perform below when establishing contact:

I introduce myself with my name/position, and then I greet the customer.

  • My tone is measured, energetic, and cheerful.
  • I make eye contact with the customer (if face to face).
  • I listen to the customer’s voice, I observe their body language, and I adjust my non-verbal language accordingly.
  • I have something to write the customer’s remarks on.
  • I am attentive and focused on my customer.

Points to remember

You have 20 seconds to make a good initial impression to the customer!

  • Pay particular attention to your facial expressions, your gestures, your words, etc.
  • Remember to come across as both welcoming and trustworthy

You’ve just seen the importance of the first few moments in a meeting between the Representative and Customer. Don’t forget, you have 20 seconds to make a good initial impression to the customer!

An effective line of questioning

Introduction

To understand the customer’s request, you must pursue an effective line of questioning and know how to…

  • Ask effective questions
  • Assess a request
  • Direct the conversation

Asking customers questions allows you to obtain the information you. need in order to assess their requests. To successfully complete this step, pursue an effective line of questioning!

Effective questions: What information should you obtain from the customer? And how should you go about it?

The way you ask a question determines the response you get:

Remember to use open questions, which serve to bring out the customer’s state of mind, their needs, and their expectations.

Closed questions (e.g., factual or preference questions) serve to clarify the situation and what they are asking for.

Group each question with the type of information it elicits.

  • Facts: “How many times has this occurred?”
  • Opinions: “What do you think about…”
  • Feelings: “How has your experience been with the new Internet service?”
  • Needs: “What do you hope to gain with this tool?”

Effective questions

Here are some tips to question effectively:

  • One single idea per question.
  • Focused on concrete and observable reality (be careful with terms that are too vague: many, more, etc.).
  • If the question is emotionally charged, first restate the sentiment.
  • Clear, precise, and short phrasings.
  • Positive and active phrasings.
  • Neutral and direct phrasings.

To obtain factual information, ask HWWHWWW.

  • How?
  • Who?
  • What?
  • How much/many?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?

Assessing the request

Over the course of “Noting the Customer’s Needs,” customers will communicate their needs to you.
It is important to distinguish between the various categories of operative needs.

Click on each individual to see examples of needs as expressed by customers.

Security: I want to be sure I won’t have any problems and that this product is reliable.

Performance: Speeding things up is important for me.

Environment: I have to comply with certain requirements for recycled products.

Considerations: Thank you for inviting me to your private sale.

Image: We prefer to work with industry leaders for their guarantee of service.

Finances: I like that customer service is free.

Innovation: I’m looking for a telephone that’s on the cutting edge of technology.

Comfort: It’s very convenient that you collect my old hardware upon delivery.

Operative needs vary by customer.
To provide a relevant response to customers, you must have previously assessed their priority needs.
To achieve this, refer to the following advice:

  • Be familiar with customers’ profession(s), habits, and needs.
  • List their most frequent needs.
  • Be familiar with the most frequent situations where products/services are needed.
  • List the right questions to ask in order to accuracy assess their request.

Directing the conversation

“Directionalizing” means guiding the conversation toward the desired objective. The main tool of directionalizing is asking questions.

Click on each button to see the various types of questions so you can be successful in your conversations.

Gain their support with closed questions
The goal of closed questions is to trigger a reaction and obtain a “YES”.
Question: Is my response relevant to what you have requested?
Answer: Yes!

Draw upon facts by asking factual questions
Gathering the facts associated with the request allows you to create a consensus on the essential points of the needs assessment.
Facts are the basic ingredients for your solution or service proposal.
Question: When do you need the product?
Answer: Next week.

Involve the customer with exploratory questions
Exploratory questions are open questions regarding the feelings or opinions of your customer.
Question: What do you expect from me in our meeting today?
Answer: That you help me find the solution that is most right for me.

Avoid pitfalls created by customers by asking return questions
Certain questions may throw you off.
Does the customer have ulterior motives they haven’t mentioned yet?
To avoid this issue, ask a return question.
Question: Do you work with Mr. Smith?
Question to ask back: You know Mr. Smith, right?

Encourage the customer to make a choice by asking preference questions
This is a subtle way to get the customer to choose.
Preference questions serve to narrow the field of opinions.
They contain the options between which the customer must choose.
Question: For packaging, do you prefer it by box or by pallet?
Answer: I prefer it by pallet, it’s more convenient.

Practice recognizing the different types of questions, so you can use them to good effect. Use these different types of questions to gain the customer’s support, avoid pitfalls, involve the customer, encourage the customer to make a choice, and draw upon facts.

For each example, indicate which type of question it corresponds to.

  • Closed question example: “Is proximity important for you?”
  • Return question example: When asked, “You use Vavite carriers, right?”, you respond: “Why do you ask?”
  • Exploratory question example: “How important is the time frame for you?”
  • Preference question example: “Which do you prefer: Monday afternoon or Thursday morning?”
  • Factual question example: “Where would you like us to deliver to?”

At the end of the conversation, don’t forget to ask a wrap-up question!

This will allow you to make sure that all the information has been collected.

For example: “Is there a point you feel is important that we haven’t gone over?”

Taking notes

The customer will supply an abundance of information, of all kinds. Taking notes will be useful both for them and for you.

Click on each individual to listen to their account on the usefulness of taking notes during customer interactions.

  • I note down ideas as we go along! This lets you show customers you’re listening, and what’s more, it makes them feel validated! They sense they are being heard and considered.
  • I take care to note down customers’ WORDS. That way, I can propose a solution using their own language. And in the event of a disagreement, I can go back to my notes, which keeps any faith in check.
  • When taking notes, I don’t hesitate to slow the customer down by saying or repeating “one moment, I’m writing this down.” Sometimes, this also lets me inject some silence, which leaves me some time to think!
  • I don’t note everything! I write down useful words and use abbreviations and symbols. This lets me restate things more easily. In addition, my notes help keep me from forgetting what was said!

Points to remember

To pursue an effective line of questioning:

  • Assess the customer’s priority needs.
  • Remain simple, direct, and positive.
  • Speak in the present tense while using the different types of questions. The goal of these questions is to collect information on the customer’s situation, needs, and state of mind.
  • Take notes and focus on the customer’s responses. That is the key to understanding them!

To pursue an effective line of questioning, assess the customer’s priority needs, stay simple and direct, speak in the present tense, and focus on the customer’s responses!

Obstacles to mutual understanding

Introduction

To accept the customer as they are, you must be cognizant of their individual differences and take into account…

  • The filter of their perceptions
  • The filter of their opinions

When interacting with a supplier, customers expect to be considered, heard, and understood as they are. Now it’s your turn to avoid these comprehension pitfalls!

The filter of perceptions

When we deal with others, we see them with our eyes and hear them with our ears. We should be wary of our perceptions, as they are not reliable.

For example, do you notice anything strange in this drawing?

A BIRD THE
THE BUSH

TURN OFF THE
THE ENGINE

A DROP IN THE
THE BUCKET

A DIME A
A DOZEN

Sometimes our eyes and ears are playing with us!

We all see reality in different ways.

If there is any disagreement or misunderstanding over the situation, first make sure that you have correctly read, seen, heard, and understood the factual information regarding the situation, i.e., that your information is complete.

Anyone could be laboring under a false perception of the situation!

A BIRD THE
THE
BUSH

TURN OFF THE
THE
ENGINE

A DROP IN THE
THE
BUCKET

A DIME A
A
DOZEN

The filter of opinions

Everyone approaches interactions using their own mental pictures, their own assumptions, and their own convictions, which sometimes makes communication difficult.

Read the beginning of the story, then hover over each individual to see their thoughts.

A pretty girl and her grandmother, as well as a young boy and his strict teacher, are travelling in the same compartment. Their train enters a tunnel. In the darkness, the four passengers hear two sounds: a kiss, then a slap. When the train exits back into the light, no one says anything, but they’re thinking…

  • The young girl: Poor boy, he wanted to kiss me but he ended up kissing my grandmother!
  • The grandmother: That cheeky boy tried to kiss my granddaughter and she slapped him. Serves him right!
  • The young boy: At the next tunnel I’ll pretend to kiss someone again and give my teacher another slap!
  • The teacher: What nerve! Someone kisses the girl and I’m the one who gets slapped!

Did you notice how the same facts can give rise to different interpretations?

That’s normal! Everyone sees things from THEIR point of view. Everyone is different and communicates from their “frame of reference.”

A frame of reference is the sum of an individual’s culture and experiences, which forms their vision of the world, creating preconceptions, prejudices, and interpretations.

If you want to understand customers, you must set aside your own “frame of reference” and focusing primarily on theirs.

Points to remember

The customer expects to be understood! To avoid misunderstandings:

  • Be mindful of the likelihood of a misunderstanding between two people.
  • Accept individual differences and overcome them to communicate effectively.
  • Adopt techniques for questioning and active listening to better communicate with your customers.

In the event of any disagreement or misunderstanding, do you routinely make sure that you have correctly read, seen, heard, and understood the right information?

Are you consistently focused on your customers’ points of view and their “frame of reference”?

The customer expects to be understood! Don’t forget to be mindful of the likelihood there has been a misunderstanding, accept individual differences, and adopt techniques for active listening.

Empathetic listening

Introduction

To help yourself develop your listening skills, you will…

  • Define the different forms of listening
  • Practice rephrasing

It’s up to you to develop your listening skills so you can get your “client listening” badge.

The different forms of listening: What does it mean to listen?

For each of these responses to a customer, indicate if it is something to be emulated or avoided when listening to the customer.

Avoid responses to a customer…

  • “If you don’t give me a date, I can’t do anything for you!”
  • “Why don’t you call technical support?”
  • “Procedures are made to be followed.”
  • “And you’re usually so punctual!”
  • “You’re simply handling it incorrectly.”
  • “Don’t worry, it’ll work itself out.”

Each of these ways of taking part in a conversation is to be avoided, because they may stall, spoil, or break up the interaction!

Listening means making the other person feel respected and understood when they are expressing themselves.

The different forms of listening: Three types of listening

There are three types of listening that should be given priority in your interactions with customers.

Slide each definition across to the corresponding type of listening.

  • Passive listening: Keeping quiet, limiting your personal contributions, giving the other person time and space to express their thoughts.
  • Encouraging listening: The glances, nods, and auditory signals that clearly manifest our interest and concern.
  • Active listening: Showing the customer that you’ve heard and understood them by restating what they’ve said. The customer may then confirm, fill in any gaps, or make corrections.

Rely on these key points in order to listen effectively!

Cooperative behaviors

Restating is THE most empathetic means of giving the customer the feeling they are being heard and understood. But it’s not so easy to restate things well!

Indicate what you think the best restatement is.

For me, the quality of a piece of clothing, how long it lasts, it’s all the same to me. I don’t see why I’d pay a lot of money, what’s important is that I feel comfortable!

“You prefer to invest in comfort more than quality.” The most important concern for this customer is comfort. Though he says that quality is not his primary concern, he emphasizes that his comfort takes precedence over quality. This customer may be ready to pay well for clothing he can feel comfortable in. He says that his primary concern is comfort.

There are several advantages to restating things during a customer interaction.

The customer:

  • sees he is being heard,
  • senses your attempts to analyze,
  • senses that his value system is being taken into consideration,
  • feels respected,
  • feels considered.

To practice intelligent restatements, rely on these four types of restatements.

The Echo: Repeating the other person’s words as a question. Used to elicit more explanation or additional information.
Request: I’m looking for a large computer screen.
Reinstatement: A large screen? Do you mean larger than a 20-inch?

The Rephrasing: Re-expressing what has just been stated – facts, opinions, feelings – in your one words.
Request: It’s always the same with this store, you can never find anything!
Reinstatement: In other words, you’re saying that…

The Summary: Reducing the bulk of the other person’s message down to its essentials, and working with that.
Request: The machine stalled 2 times today. We’re losing 2 hours of production time. What makes this even more frustrating is that we’re in a period of large-volume orders…
Reinstatement: So to summarize, you’ve had problems with the machines today and it’s causing mojor delays…

The Transition: Changing the topic or moving on to the next step.
Request: I believe I will take the family health insurance option.
Reinstatement: Since you agree to the family insurance plan, may we discuss the recreation issue?

Points to remember

Listening means making the other person feel respected and understood when they are expressing themselves.
Listening is an act of communication. It requires:

  • an open mental and physical attitude
  • taking in all that is being said (listening doesn’t mean accepting)
  • knowing how to restate things (understanding, then repeating)

Mix up your listening methods over the course of “Nothing the Customer’s Needs”: be silent, encouraging, and actively restating.

To be considerate and receptive to customers, you must improve your ability to listen to them.

Listening means making the other person feel respected and understood when they are expressing themselves.

Conclusion

Listening is an essential skill in customer relations.

To strengthen your listening skills:

  • During the first contact, convey your professionalism and openness in order to encourage customers to express themselves.
  • Ask questions intelligently and take good notes.
  • Cultivate your empathy and your use of restatement.
  • Demonstrate your understanding and openness to the customer.

Listening well will allow you to better understand and collect the information you need to formulate your response!

You have just acquired the keys to strengthening your listening skills during each customer interaction. Be attentive during the first contact. Remember to quickly convey an open and professional image that encourages customers to express themselves. Ask questions intelligently and take good notes in order to better understand their needs. Cultivate your empathy and your use of restatement. Demonstrate your understanding and openness to the customer. And above all, remember to accept them as they are. Listening well will allow you to better understand and collect the information you need to formulate your response!

Synthesis

Conditions that encourage customers to express themselves

You have 20 seconds to make a good initial impression to the customer!

  • Pay particular attention to your facial expressions, your gestures, your words, etc.
  • Remember to come across as both welcoming and trustworthy.

Best practices for “Connecting with the Person”

  • Wear appropriate attire (if face to face)
  • Make eye contact with the customer (if face to face).
  • Introduce yourself with your name/position, and then greet the customer.
  • Your tone should be measured, energetic, and cheerful.
  • Listen to the customer’s voice, observe their body language, and adjust accordingly.
  • Invite the customer to express themselves by posing an open question.

An effective line of questioning

To pursue an effective line of questioning:

  • Assess the customer’s priority needs.
  • Remain simple, direct, and positive.
  • Speak in the present tense while using the different types of questions. The goal of these questions is to collect information on the customer’s situation, needs, and state of mind.
  • Take notes and focus on the customer’s responses. That is the key to understanding them!

To obtain factual information, ask HWWHWWW.

  • How?
  • Who?
  • What?
  • How much/many?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?

Operative needs vary by customer. To provide a relevant response to customers, you must have previously assessed their priority needs. To achieve this, refer to the following advice:

  • Be familiar with customers’ profession(s), habits, and needs.
  • List their most frequent needs.
  • Be familiar with the most frequent situations where products/services are needed.
  • List the right questions to ask in order to accurately assess their request.

At the end of the conversation, don’t forget to ask a wrap-up question! This will allow you to make sure that all the information has been collected. For example: “Is there a point you feel is important that we haven’t gone over?”

Obstacles to mutual understanding

The customer expects to be understood! To avoid misunderstandings:

  • Be mindful of the likelihood of a misunderstanding between two people.
  • Accept individual differences and overcome them to communicate effectively.
  • Adopt techniques for questioning and active listening to better communicate with your customers.

In the event of any disagreement or misunderstanding, do you routinely make sure that you have correctly read, seen, heard, and understood the right information? Are you consistently focused on your customers’ points of view and their “frame of reference”?

Empathetic listening

Listening means making the other person feel respected and understood when they are expressing themselves. Listening is an act of communication. It requires:

  • an open mental and physical attitude
  • taking in all that is being said (listening doesn’t mean accepting)
  • knowing how to restate things (understanding, then repeating)

Mix up your listening methods over the course of “Nothing the Customer’s Needs”: be silent, encouraging, and actively restating.

To be considerate and receptive to customers, you must improve your ability to listen to them.

There are several advantages to restating things during a customer interaction.

The customer:

  • sees he is being heard,
  • senses your attempts to analyze,
  • senses that his value system is being taken into consideration,
  • feels respected,
  • feels considered.

Conclusion

Listening is an essential skill in customer relations. To strengthen your listening skills:

  • During the first contact, convey your professionalism and openness in order to encourage customers to express themselves.
  • Ask questions intelligently and take good notes.
  • Cultivate your empathy and your use of restatement.
  • Demonstrate your understanding and openness to the customer.

Listening well will allow you to better understand and collect the information you need to formulate your response!

Published by Silvia Emma

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