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5 Active Listening Skills for Call Center Agents

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Joel Makhluf

Active listening skills for call center agents are the foundation of their ability to reach first call resolution goals and improved agent/customer experiences. The benefits of active listening in customer service have far-reaching impacts. They can strengthen brand loyalty one customer at a time, driving bottom- and top-line business growth.

Building trust through active listening is a skill that is challenging to master and challenging to maintain throughout every call and encounter. This is because stress, fatigue, and distractions are constantly wearing away at the agent’s emotional intelligence. That’s all par for the course on a typical day where they are engaging 50 or more customers.

Building and strengthening those active listening skills takes practice and an understanding of what they are and how to apply them. By committing these five key active listening skills for call center agents, it’s possible to improve each encounter and sharpen your natural emotional intelligence skills.

1. Stay in the moment, and listen only to the caller

One of the hardest parts of active listening on the phone is the ability to stay focused on the caller in the moment instead of focusing on your response. The goal is to suspend any internal dialog to be more grounded and present in the conversation. This empathetic listening approach to active listening enables the agent to be more aware of the caller’s mood, tone, and use of language.

Doing this enables the agent to gauge the direction of the conversation and be aware of escalating frustrations through signs such as:

  • Using sarcasm
  • Speaking faster, or incrementally louder
  • Non-verbal signals like the pace and volume of the caller’s breathing or pauses in speech

This enables the agent to get the conversation and the caller back on track. The agent must do this before it goes off the rails in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, for fast, first call resolution. The impression and feelings of positive or negative customer experiences can have far-reaching consequences for brand loyalty and image across social media and marketing channels.

2. Listen in an emotionally intelligent way

Another important customer service active listening exercise is to train yourself to listen in an emotionally intelligent way by carefully listening to the tone of the caller’s voice. The agent can then either match their tone when they are upbeat and conversational or provide empathy when the caller is frustrated or angry by letting them know they hear their frustrations. This starts with understanding how agent behaviors can increase caller frustrations.

Clipped speech or a flat tone can indicate that the caller is impatient and on guard against any conversation that they deem unproductive. These indicators of emotional intent can mean any dialog that just prolongs a “necessary evil” activity they want to finish quickly will only frustrate them.

3. Let callers set the pace, and don’t interrupt

All active listening skills for call center agents focus on making the caller feel heard. The agent can do this by letting them set the pace of the conversation. This is where some insights from skill number three can come into play from the very first words from the caller. Having patience to let the caller express themselves is paramount, so never interrupt them, even if they interrupt you by letting them set the pace.

4. Summarize back to the caller what they have said

Staying in the moment and focusing only on what the caller is saying and when they are saying it is only the first part of a two-part exercise in active listening. The second part of this caller-focused active listening skill is to summarize back to the caller what they have said to you when they explain their problem, need, or concern.

The agent can then give them a chance to correct, change, or emphasize anything they said, which then enables the agent to respond with the answers the caller needs and nothing else. While this reflective listening helps to draw out further information from the caller, not every caller will express their needs in a way that is complete or easily understood. That’s where customer service active listening exercise skill number 5 comes in.

5. Ask questions that provide clarity on what the caller has said

Once the caller has expressed their needs, concerns and provided the agent with an understanding of their emotional state without being interrupted, it still may not be clear what they need. It may be best to ask questions at this stage rather than paraphrasing what they said back to them. You can ask questions that branch off something they said (“when you said X, did you mean…”).

Not every caller that has difficulty in expressing themselves will have the patience for these questions. It’s important for agents to constantly listen for emotional and tonal cues as much as the words that the caller uses. This will enable them to keep them from frustration escalation, catch it early, and take things in a different direction or change their approach. The answer may be to include a hybrid of paraphrasing what they said and asking questions to get to the caller’s need and intent quickly.

Maximizing Active Listening Skills for Call Center Agents

Active listening skills for call center agents are challenging to develop and maintain for every call center agent throughout every call and every day. That’s why developing each agent’s emotional intelligence can be the basis for establishing active listening skills. But the job of the call center agent is challenging because of stress, frustrations, distractions, and fatigue. These can all make it difficult to pick up on call emotional cues, intent, and how to best respond in the moment.

While the best way to improve emotional intelligence and active listening skills for call center agents is practice, that is not the only support that can improve their performance every day. Call center active listening activities for call center agents that channel manager support, training, and call monitoring can all be improved to help call agents develop their active listening skills. As a leader in human aware technology and augmented intelligence, Cogito is changing the game for call and support centers to maximize active listening, first call resolution, and customer experiences that build your brand.

Cogito solutions maximize the benefits of active listening in customer service to improve first call resolution, customer experience, brand loyalty and the bottom line while lowering talk time. Get in touch with us to see how we can partner with your business or organization to meet your specific needs.

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