Contact center service is all about helping people. But your agents can only help if they understand the problems customers face.
What’s the best way to gain this understanding? By listening. That’s why so many businesses train their agents in active listening, where agents consciously focus on the customer.
The problem is that the average contact center role has plenty of distractions. This makes it tough for your agents to listen effectively.
So let’s suggest a solution: using automation to remove distractions.
What is active listening?
Active listening is when you make a conscious effort to hear what someone is saying and – more importantly – understand their meaning.
There are essentially two parts to the practice. First is the act of concentrating fully on the speaker.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds.
You have to remove the disturbances that typically break your concentration. That may be other people talking nearby, secondary tasks, or even thinking about a different problem.
The second part of active listening is adding value to the conversation.
It means encouraging communication by responding to speech in relevant ways.
Asking questions, nodding at the appropriate time, and showing you agree with statements all help.
Contact center agents have unique active listening challenges
Your contact center agents spend much of their day talking to customers. They are often great listeners. But they still face several unique active listening challenges.
- They are unable to provide the visual feedback that is so important to regular communication
- They often enter calls blind, without knowing who they are speaking to
- They have secondary tasks to complete during a call, such as finding customer accounts or inputting data
All these factors stop your agents from focusing on the customer. If you want to foster active listening, you must help your agents overcome these challenges.
You can improve the first point by teaching agents how to respond to callers in ways that show they are listening. We share some research-backed strategies for this later in the article.
But for the latter two points, you need a drastic solution.
Here’s how technology can help
Think about this statistic: in the average call, agents spend 75% of the time on manual research.
This either happens while the customer is on hold or during the conversation. Certainly not the ideal scenarios for active listening.
Technology helps by reducing the manual research agents have to do. By automating time-consuming tasks, agents can focus all their attention on the customer.
It also helps improve understanding. Having better (and faster) access to customer data provides context for what the customer is saying.
Here are some examples of how this works:
- Connect your CRM to your contact center software. When customers call, your system identifies them by comparing the number to an account in your database. It then notifies the agent.
- Create a process that automatically opens a customer account when the agent answers the call. Agents won’t have to bring up a profile while the customer is talking. If an agent needs more customer data, they have fast access to it.
- Use Natural Language Understanding (NLU) to listen to the call and provide agents with prompts about relevant actions. This reduces pressure on them to think of next steps, helping them focus on what the customer is saying.
- Use an IVR to capture caller intent and improve distribution. This ensures the caller gets through to the right agent and provides them with information about the customer’s issue.
You can quickly and easily set up this type of automation using no-code technology.
Just integrate the platforms and tools you use. Then create automation using predefined blocks of code.
How else can contact centers improve active listening?
There is a lot of general advice about becoming a better active listener. One of the best resources is an article in the Harvard Business Review.
The publication reports that the best listeners display the following four characteristics.
- They make listening part of a two-way dialogue.
- They help the talker feel supported.
- They create a cooperative experience.
- They make suggestions.
These recommendations are beneficial because they go beyond typical active listening advice.
Here is how you can use these findings in customer service.
Create a two-way dialogue
The article suggests that good listeners do much more than murmur in agreement during relevant parts of a conversation. Instead, you should aim to become a part of the conversation.
With this in mind, teach your agents to ask questions based on the information the speaker has provided.
Asking relevant questions also helps your agents gain a better understanding of the customer’s issues. They’ll be able to provide the best possible support.
(Tip: this is far easier when your agents aren’t focused on short-term goals like AHT.)
Support the talker
Supporting the talker means creating a safe space for them to express themselves. Making them feel good about what they are saying will also help.
Using affirmative phrases is a great way to create a supportive environment. And encourage agents to show support and demonstrate concern about the customer’s issue.
Have a cooperative conversation
This third tip should be easy to apply in a customer service situation. After all, both the agent and the talker want the same thing: to resolve the customer’s issue.
Teaching your agents to avoid interrupting the speaker while talking is vital, even if they think they already have the answer.
Occasionally customers will become angry, which makes having a cooperative discussion difficult. But there are still things you can teach agents that help get the customer back on your side.
For example, agents can remind the customer that they are there to help them and that they’re both on the same team.
If your agents have followed the recommendations above, they should have a good idea about the customer’s problem.
At this point, the best listeners use this input to make suggestions that effectively resolve the issue.
Better listeners mean happier customers
Improving the active listening skills of your agents results in a better customer experience.
This is important because CX affects whether customers stick with your brand and recommend your product.
Active listening improves the customer experience because:
- It ensures agents understand the reason why the customer is calling. They are thus better able to provide help.
- Active listening helps build rapport and relationships. This is central to providing a good customer experience.
- Active listening ensures customers feel heard. They will feel better about interactions with your brand.