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This post is the third and final installment in a series on how to listen. It is aimed primarily at customer service call center agents, and we therefore talk about call centers, customers, and companies. However, the principles presented will apply well to almost anyone in any situation, whether business or personal.
In Parts One and Two of The Customer Service Guide to Listening, we covered some essential elements of listening, and then fine-tuned things by reviewing some strategic questions to be asked. This will have allowed you to hear exactly what your caller’s concerns are. Now it’s your turn. In this fourth rule we’ll cover how to present what you’ve understood, so you can be sure you and the caller are seeing things the same way.
Listening Rule 4: Make sure you understand the issue.
As you have listened and asked and then listened some more, you started to get a good idea of what the caller’s problem is, and what a suitable solution might be. But are you right? Do you really understand what’s happening? You won’t know until the caller tells you, so make sure you double check before suggesting any kind of response or repair.
There are a few very good ways to do this, and they can probably be best broken down into three techniques: repeating, paraphrasing, and verbalizing:
a.) Repeating is the most basic response. You simply say what the caller has said, but usually in a shortened form that hopefully captures the basic meaning, and encourages the caller to fill in anything that he or she thinks you’ve missed. For example:
Caller: The system started having trouble on Tuesday while I was using it, and it has just been giving nothing but trouble since then.
Agent: So the system hasn’t worked properly for you since this past Tuesday?
This works well for basic problems or at the start of a call, but as the topic becomes more complex or the caller goes into more detail, it is usually more helpful to move to the next level of responding…
b.) Paraphrasing involves repeating what the caller says, but in your own words, to make sure you fully understand what was meant. For example:
Caller: I don’t understand why I’m being billed so much this month. I never used the system any more this month than I did any other time, and my bill was always exactly the same every single month. But now all of a sudden I’m billed an extra $50! That just doesn’t make any sense.
Agent: So you think there must be an error in the amount you’re being billed this month?
c.) Verbalizing or Probing move beyond what is actually being said, to understand the emotion or underlying issues that the caller may not have even yet grasped. This can often be difficult to do well, and frankly is often not at all necessary when dealing with straightforward issues. It can prove valuable though when trying to track down the reason for repeated or ongoing problems. Fortunately, most call center agents are supplied with diagnostic charts to help them isolate potential problems or challenges, but knowing how to phrase things properly can make a big difference in how well people supply the information you need. For example:
Caller: I’m completely fed up with your company! Everything I get from you is junk. It all keeps breaking! The main unit broke after just a few months. The the auxiliary systems all stopped working within a few weeks of each other, and only a little while after they were replaced, now the control system is broken. I am really fed up!
Agent: Mr. Johnson, I am so sorry to hear about all the trouble you’ve been having. These systems are usually very reliable, but like a lot of computer systems, they can fail if voltage spikes or power surges occur. I see from your records here that you live in a rural area, where those kinds of conditions often occur. What types of surge protectors are in place, Mr. Johnson?
By practicing these techniques and getting better at recognizing when to use each, you will become increasingly effective at quickly understanding callers’ needs and finding appropriate solutions.
This concludes the Customer Service Guide to Listening. We appreciate your taking the time to read this Guide, and would love your feedback on any of the points presented. At Tacamor, we pride ourselves on handling the highest levels of customer service call center outsourcing for our clients. If you feel we can be of service to you and your customers, please let us know. We are indeed listening!