Active listening skills improves contact center internal ESAT (employee satisfaction) and external CSAT (customer satisfaction), per ApexCX CEO Jerry Briggs.

Active listening skills can improve contact center leadership internal communication with employees and external customer experience.

What is active listening

Active listening means paying attention, getting out of the way, and trying to understand another person’s point of view.  It goes beyond simply hearing the spoken words.  Active listening is a way to show understanding, respect, and care.  

When leaders apply active listening skills in an organization, it can build engagement, trust, and innovation.  And when contact center agents apply active listening skills to customer communications, it can lead to a better customer experience (“CX”) and greater brand loyalty.  

This article will examine how to develop active listening skills and how they can benefit both leaders and contact center agents.

What are active listening skills

An article from the Harvard Business Review describes active listening as having three main elements:

  1. Cognitive:  Receiving all of the speaker’s message, expressed and implied;
  1. Emotional:  Staying calm and managing emotional reactions;
  1. Behavioral:  Conveying interest and understanding, verbally and non-verbally.

Why do leaders need active listening skills 

Leaders who practice active listening skills are good for organizations.  The Harvard Business Review  found that active listening is associated with feelings of managerial support, leading to greater job satisfaction and higher engagement.  And a study reported in Forbes found that employees who feel heard are nearly five times more likely to give their best efforts than employees who do not.  

When leaders actively listen, they are perceived as showing respect and empathy.  That creates an environment of trust where employees feel free to share insights, think outside of the box, and innovate.  

One challenge in the age of social media is the prevalent use of platforms like Slack and LinkedIn. Just like email communication which lacks tone, body language, and non-verbal cues, social media messaging is a “cold” form of communication.  This “one way street” model emphasizes being heard in a crowded space, instead of a dialogue. Because it encourages leaders to broadcast their views, and solicit support from employees with “likes”, “comments”, and “shares”, it can diminish listening and relating to others.  Leaders need to focus on keeping their ears open and minds engaged for real active listening and feedback.

Developing active listening skills

Active listening consists of specific skills, described in more detail here, that can be learned.  Here are six active listening skills to practice:

  • Limit distractions:  Don’t try to multitask – put away your devices and focus on the speaker.  Do try to quiet any competing thoughts or worries.
  • Listen to the whole message:  Avoid the temptation to interrupt, offer solutions, or comment before the speaker finishes.  
  • Withhold judgment:  Silence your “inner critic,” who may want to attack or refute the speaker’s words.  Try instead to understand the other’s point of view.  
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues:  Words only convey part of any message.  Pay attention to cues from body language, tone of voice, and emotional state.
  • Ask questions:  To show interest, ask open ended queries like “tell me more.”  Ask confirming questions to make sure you’ve understood the speaker’s point.
  • “Reflect” the speaker’s words:  Finally, “reflect” the speaker’s words back – either by repeating or paraphrasing them.  It’s a simple way to build trust and confidence.

It takes time to develop a full set of active listening skills.  The good news is that any improvement will begin to unlock better communication and stronger relationships.  

Active listening for contact center agents

Contact center agents are your organization’s direct links to customers and clients.  Improving active listening skills among agents has the potential to supercharge CX and drive brand loyalty – one customer at a time.  

However, contact center agents have unique challenges in developing active listening skills.  

The first is being consistent and keeping focus over the course of a day.  Fatigue and distractions accumulate over the course of 50 or more customer encounters each day.  But as agents improve their active listening skills, they will be able to resolve calls more effectively and with less fatigue.  

Another challenge is that contact center agents lose many non-verbal cues that would be apparent in person.  Here are a few tips to handle these kinds of encounters:

  • Let the caller set the pace:  The contact center agent can make the customer feel heard by being patient and avoiding interruption.  Getting the conversation off to a good start is key to a successful resolution.
  • Listen for speech patterns:  Listen for clues to the direction of the conversation, particularly whether the customer is growing frustrated or upset.  These include the customer’s use of sarcasm and speaking louder or faster over time.  
  • Listen for emotional cues:  Tone of voice also gives clues about the caller’s emotional state.  The agent can use those clues to respond appropriately, whether matching a cheerful caller, or empathizing with a frustrated or angry caller.
  • Ask questions and summarize:  Just as in face-to-face conversations, agents can stay on track by asking questions to confirm they’ve understood the caller.  Summarizing the caller’s points, by repeating or paraphrasing, is still effective at building rapport.  

Developing active listening skills can benefit your organization both internally and in customer-facing exchanges.  If you would like to learn more about active listening, leadership development, or improving CX, please contact us