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Service Excellence on the Phone: Active Listening Pays Dividends

September 15, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Customer Service

Listening attentively or actively will have been successful if you have appropriately translated the caller’s requests for information or assistance accurately. At one end of the scale, this assistance may simply be that you have clearly heard and understood what has been said (and acknowledged this). At the other end of the scale, you may need to solve a simple or complex problem for the caller, in which case you will have had to have listened very carefully and know how to work with the caller to develop an acceptable solution. In this latter sense, listening needs to be done in a solution-minded way.

Being “solution-minded” sounds simple enough in theory, but this “can-do” attitude is often missing in practice. This is because many people almost automatically adopt a defensive attitude when a caller communicates a problem, or they may even add to the problem by confusing the customer with irrelevant information about internal procedures or organizational jargon that isn’t readily understood.

Another critical step that we can take to make sure that we are responding in the best possible way to each caller’s needs is to always seek to close-out the discussion in a clear and action-focused way, wherever possible. Once again, an apparently straightforward step is often done poorly because we lose concentration or are in too much of a rush at the end of the call. This runs the risk of un-doing much of any good work we have done previously by listening carefully and being helpful and may create an impression that your interest in the customer and the issues he or she has talked about is now over. This is a particular problem when the customer has high expectations of action from you.

The best possible outcome for all but the very shortest of calls is to quietly summarize each discussion you have with a caller and outline what you see the next steps to be. You can then ask the customer, calling him or her by name if possible, to confirm that this is an accurate summary. This will help the caller to feel positive after he or she has hung up and then the rest is up to you. Don’t forget, if you have made a promise, follow-through is critical – your reputation is at stake.

The featured video clip is drawn from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder Service Excellence on the Telephone Video Vignette Set.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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