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Customer Service & Support: Less Talking & More Listening

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and to be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” -Dr. Ralph Nichols (www.customerserviceskillsbook.com)

There is a common misconception in the customer service or support industry that you are going to talk someone through their problem to a solution. Ask a few quick questions and with your incredible knowledge and know how you can jump to a quick resolution and explain the problem to the neophyte on the other end of the line. Even worse, you aren’t an expert but you have a script of questions to ask your customer and regardless of their answers you will work to fix their problem. One of the most important tenants of quality customer service is to listen more than you talk. To not just ask questions to ask questions but to ask questions and dig deeper to the root of the problem. Your customer will give you clues, they will give you symptoms, they will tell you their pain – you just need to listen to their answers to hear them and if you ignore what they say you are doing yourself and your organization a disservice.

A recent chat I had with a large cable provider exemplifies this issue. I have an IT background and I know a bit of basic troubleshooting. My wife asked me to take a look at why the cable on one of our TV’s was no longer working. Turns out the basic cable box was dead. No power, no lights, nothing. Using my standard troubleshooting skills I tried plugging the device into another outlet to see if the outlet was dead. No dice. I went as far as to find the AC Adapter from another cable box that was working and that did not revive the cable box. So I started an online chat session with said cable provider. I was immediately greeted with a warm greeting from the support person inclusive of the world smiles…repeatedly. I explained the issue and more importantly I explained exactly what I had done already to try and fix the issue and asked if I needed to swap out my cable box at a service center. I was given the standard apology for the interruption in service and they typical appreciation of my patience while I waited for a resolution. All of which having been on the other side of the line I was fine with. Where we went off the rails were the suggestion by the support agent that I try plugging into another outlet. I politely stated I had tried that. The suggestion that if I had another AC adapter I try using that. Again I politely stated I had tried that as well. At this point not pointing out that I had said these things already and felt pretty confident what my issue was because I was still open to the possibility there was something new or some magical way the little green light on this device would come back on. Where things started to truly get frustrating was then the support agent asking if there was a green light on the front of the device. Still a no. Had I thought about coming into a service center to get a free replacement coax cable. No, does power come through coax these days? And finally they were going to try and reset the device remotely. Weird that didn’t do work. At that point I restated everything I had already done and my original ask if the box could be replaced. Bear in mind we are now 25 minutes into this conversation and despite a series of platitudes and gracious responses on the part of the support agent I was really frustrated with repeating myself. The final suggestion on the part of the support agent a full 30 minutes into our chat – I could always bring the cable box into a service center and have it replaced for free. “Anything else I can help you with?” Um. No.

So why did it take 30 minutes to provide me the solution I had asked for in the first two minutes of the chat? Was this support agent so focused on being polite they didn’t know how to listen? More likely, they have a basic troubleshooting script that encourages them to try several methods no matter what the issue is or how technical the customer is. My only reason for chatting in the first place was the possibility I might not have properly diagnosed the issue and was open to that possibility but what I ended up with was a much lower regard for the cable provider than I already had because I repeated myself three times over the course of the conversation because they just weren’t listening to me.

A 1999 US Department of Labor statistic reveals that 46% of those who quit their jobs did so because they felt they were not listened to and therefore unappreciated. If people, will quit their jobs at this rate how easy is it for a customer to quit a company that employs support agents that don’t listen to them?

This isn’t some incredible new concept we are covering here. Improved listening skills will help salespeople sell, help couples with healthy relationships and if you could get kids to listen better to their parents or parents to better listen to their kids this world would be a lovely place. It is just front and center in the Service & Support industry that if you are more concerned with pleasantries and following a script than you are to listening to your customers, you are way more likely to politely upset them than you are to deliver great customer service.

- Joshua Tufts, Senior Consultant
Blueprint Consulting Services