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Soft Skills—Active Listening

Active listening is participating in a conversation where you focus on what the customer is saying—in other words, listening more than talking. For a technician, active listening has the following benefits:

  • Enables you to gather data and symptoms quickly

  • Enables you to build customer rapport

  • Improves your understanding of the problem

  • Enables you to solve the problem more quickly because you understand the problem better

  • Provides mutual understanding between you and the customer

  • Provides a means of having a positive, engaged conversation rather than having a negative, confrontational encounter

  • Focuses on the customer rather than the technician

  • Provides an environment in which the customer might be more forthcoming with information related to the problem

Frequently, when a technician arrives onsite or contacts a customer who has a technical problem, the technician is (1) rushed; (2) thinking of other things, including the problems that need to be solved; (3) assuming that he or she knows exactly what the problem is, even though the user has not finished explaining the problem; or (4) is more interested in the technical problem than in the customer and the issues. Active listening changes the focus from the technician’s problems to the customer’s problems.

A common but ineffective service call involves a technician doing most of the talking and questioning, using technical jargon and acronyms and a flat or condescending tone. The customer who feels vulnerable experiences a heightened anxiety level. Active listening changes this scenario by helping you build a professional relationship with your customers. The following list outlines some measures that help you implement active listening. Figure 3.41 has a to-do list for you that is for your entire IT career.

Figure 3.41

Figure 3.41 Active listening

Have a positive, engaged professional attitude when talking and listening to customers:

  • Leave your prejudices behind; be polite and aware of other cultures and customs; be open-minded and nonjudgmental.

  • Have a warm and caring attitude.

  • Do not fold your arms in front of your chest because doing so distances you from the problem and the customer.

  • Do not blame others or talk badly about other technicians.

  • Do not act as if the problem is not your responsibility.

    Focus on what the customer is saying:

  • Turn off or ignore electronic devices.

  • Maintain eye contact; don’t let your mind wander.

  • Allow the customer to finish explaining the problem; do not interrupt; avoid arguing with the customer or being defensive.

  • Stop all irrelevant behaviors and activities.

  • Mentally review what the customer is saying.

  • Refrain from talking to co-workers unnecessarily while interacting with customers.

  • Avoid personal interruptions or distractions.

    Participate in the conversation in a limited, but active manner:

  • Maintain a professional demeanor (suspend negative emotions); do not minimize or diminish the customer’s problem.

  • Acknowledge that you are listening by occasionally nodding and making comments, such as “I see.”

  • Use positive body language such as leaning slightly forward or taking notes.

  • Observe the customer’s behavior to determine when it is appropriate to ask questions.

    Briefly talk with the customer:

  • Speak with a positive tone; use a tone that is empathetic and genuine, not condescending.

  • Restate or summarize points made by the customer.

  • Ask nonthreatening, probing questions related to the customer’s statements or questions.

  • Do not jump between topics.

  • Do not use technical jargon.

  • Clarify the meaning of the customer’s situation.

  • Identify clues to help solve the problem and reduce your troubleshooting time by listening carefully to what the customer says.

  • Follow up with the person at a later date to ensure that the problem is solved and to verify satisfaction.

  • Offer different repair or replacement options, if possible.

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