Clear Calls Faster with Effective Listening


There is a logical connection between effective listening and speedy call resolution.  Yet many agents, even the motivated ones, can sometimes miss a trick here.  Carolyn Blunt tells us why….

When calls are either high in volume or repetitive in nature there can be a tendency to rush through the standard questions, flick through the system screens at lightning speed and end the call. It may even appear that the call has been closed and that your team does not need any help to close calls even faster.

If customer and caller satisfaction ratings are high and call volumes are as predicted then you may feel that all is well.  However, there may be calls in the stack that are actually repeat calls because the resolution has been given in haste, on autopilot and, in fact, was not the correct resolution.

There may be callers who have reluctantly agreed that the call can be closed but who are still harbouring feelings of dissatisfaction, and this may or may not be reflected in customer satisfaction ratings, feedback or complaint volumes.

So what to do next?

Unfortunately there is no magic formula.  Effective listening requires:

1.  FOCUS – Give the caller your undivided attention

Try to minimise distractions in the call centre.  For example, if staff are permitted to have magazines or newspapers at breaks or on their desks during ‘quiet’ times of the day these can still be causing a distraction if they remain in their line of vision whilst on the telephone.

2.  FIDDLE Use your hands

The telephone requires us to use our auditory senses but fails to stimulate our visual or kinaesthetic (touch, movement, feelings) senses.  Often if the person has a preference for visual this under-utilised sense may seek engagement elsewhere (e.g. the colourful photograph on the cover of a celebrity gossip magazine becomes an alluring distraction!)  Instead encourage note taking – this allows all the senses to be engaged and forces the listener to concentrate and process what is being said.  Even doodling on a notepad is channelling those senses and enables concentration for some people.  Consider providing stress toys such as koosh balls, tangles or bendy men for people to fiddle with whilst listening to callers.  This is particularly helpful when dealing with difficult callers who need to ‘vent’ at your agents.

3. FILTER Reduce background noise

The contact centre environment can be extremely noisy.  To listen effectively we need to be able to filter out the background noise.  Offer the option of double headsets (two earpieces instead of the standard single one) to allow agents to tune in to callers fully.  [Using sound baffles in the call centre and also using noise cancelling headsets can help – Editor]

4.  FEEDBACK – Give feedback and coach the performance of all agents regularly

The ability to play back recorded calls is ideal to illustrate where an agent may not be demonstrating the fundamentals of effective listening (see below).

  • Keep a note of where they have listened effectively and coach for improvement (see our free coaching form on the Real Results website).
  • If there are agents that other people in the contact centre find consistently loud and, as a result, distracting, regular feedback and coaching is a must.
  • Consider rotating seats and positions in the contact centre to keep people alert and avoid deep-seated frustrations or resentments brewing.
  • As a leader or manager it may be helpful to keep any agents that might be disruptive seated nearer to you.

5.  FLOW – Keep the call flowing effectively

Show the caller that you are listening to them by using effective signposting throughout the call.  Every call should have a clear beginning, middle and end.

The beginning should include a warm, informative greeting and an invitation to the caller to give the reason for calling.  The agent should then signpost what will happen next, what information they will need and what the likely outcome will be (especially if it is unlikely to be resolved by the end of the call).

Using plenty of checking questions (Is that ok with you?  Do you have that information to hand?) and giving an indication of how long the process will take (E.g. this will take about 5/10/20 minutes, is that ok with you?) are very useful to keep the caller calm and communicating clearly.  Letting the caller know that the call is coming to an end is critical to clearing calls quickly and effectively.

Phrases such as ‘before we finish is there anything else you need to ask?’ or ‘would you like to double check any of the information I’ve given you before we close?’ or ‘now that we are at the end of the call would you like me to summarise what will happen next’, etc.

There is a good argument for avoiding ‘Is there anything else I can help you with today?’ at the end of the call as the caller may bring up something that could have been dealt with more easily earlier on, or that affects the solution you have just given.  If this is a useful question consider asking it at the start of the call when the caller first outlines their reason for calling: ‘I’ve made a note of that and we will look it into that now.  Before we begin is there anything else you might want us to deal with today?’

6.  FUNDAMENTALS – Don’t interrupt the caller

The basics of effective listening are obvious: not interrupting, summarising back effectively and giving the right amounts and types of verbal nods, but these are often easier said than done. Train agents to wait a full second before responding to make sure the caller has finished what they were saying and doesn’t then feel interrupted.  Practise summarising back in training and coaching sessions by giving them an amount of verbal information and asking them to pick out the key points and reflect them back.  Verbal nods are essential on the telephone to encourage the caller and reassure them that you are listening.  Using repetitive sounds just gives a dismissive impression so train agents to use a variety (aha, yes, ok, I see, mmm).

Make yourself a role model

Finally, ensure you are a good role model for effective listening.  Give your colleagues your full attention when they speak to you and practise questioning and summarising techniques to encourage the habit.  If you have a natural tendency to interrupt try to control it.  You can do this easily on the telephone by simply jotting down the thought that popped in to your head and waiting till it’s your turn.  The other person will be able to express themselves more quickly and easily so you will get to the crux of the real issues faster and with better rapport.


carolyn-blunt-1002

Carolyn Blunt

Carolyn Blunt is a contact centre training expert with Real Results Training.

If you enjoyed this article you might also like our free resources. Please visit www.real-results.co.uk and see the Members Area.  For more information on training your advisers cost-effectively call 0161 408 2003.

Published On: 12th Aug 2009 - Last modified: 5th Jul 2018
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5 Comments
  1. Carolyn – thanks for a lovely piece on listening.
    All to often the skill of listening is overlooked yet it is the most important part of any verbal interaction. I particularly like Point 2 with a reference to ‘doing something with your hands. You have made such a great point. I am a doodler and without doubt I know it helps me concentrate on the speaker. Great point!

    Christine Knott 13 Aug at 2:28 pm
  2. Very informative article Carolyn, I found the call flow question suggestions you offered to be very helpful and will look at integrating some of these to our scripts. Rotating seats every so often is another good one – though I know a lot of agents hate change, this would freshen things up a little!

    Katie 13 Aug at 2:44 pm
  3. I think this is a Great article..very help-full for my..the 4ht point is very important..Thank you Carolyn for this information.

    Fernando 17 Aug at 4:17 am
  4. I think the point raised and explained in this article is very important and well explained by Carolyn. As per my personal experience, whenever you have high call volume, for shorter span of time [may be due to some temporary issue], we may skip some lines in our script [like asking further help if we are getting closing signals, Forwarding details to Back office so they can execute actions etc] which will result in less abandoned calls. Further we need to use close ended questions. Typing speed, motivated agent and quick PC handling [effective use of all available resources] always add on simplicity in calls from wrap up point of view. The afformentioned last point is some time remains un-noticed in many occasions but from my point of view, this carries lot of weight. Happy Learning 🙂

    Nauman Cheema 20 Aug at 6:21 am
  5. Rarely do I find really good material on listening with respect to customers. Nice work on this one. I like the way you provide general suggestions, rather than too many specifics, since one problem is that the “listening” responses seem canned or scripted, which puts people off.

    Robert Bacal 2 Dec at 4:05 pm
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