Ten Tips to Improve Listening Skills on the Telephone

Need to improve your listening skills within the call centre? Christine Knott of Beyond the Box provides us with her top tips.

Stay focused

Prevent yourself from being distracted by colleagues or external noises and concentrate on what your caller is saying.

Detect emotions

Listen to the emotion in your caller’s voice. Does it match or endorse the words they are using?

Ask questions

Ask questions to gain more information on points you need to clarify.

Don’t interrupt

You listen more effectively when you’re not talking, so refrain from interrupting your caller. Let them finish what they are saying, interruptions may break their train of thought.

Don’t preempt

Avoid pre-empting what your caller is going to say, chances are you will be wrong and miss some of the content of their conversation.

Recap key facts

Summarise and reflect back to check you have heard the key facts and content of the caller’s conversation correctly. It also lets the caller know you have understood them. Statements such as “What I’m hearing is…” and “Sounds like you are saying…” are great ways to reflect back and summarise.

Pen and paper at the ready

Have a pen and paper to hand and get into the habit of making short quick references to any questions you want to ask or points you wish to raise or comment on. When your caller has finished speaking refer back to your notes and take action. If you are thinking of answers and responses whilst the caller is speaking, you are not listening.

Say it again

If you are having difficulty listening, make the necessary adjustments. You might say, “I’m sorry I missed that last point. Please repeat that for me.”

Watch the stereotypes

Avoid stereotyping individuals by making assumptions about how you expect them to act and what you expect them to say. This will bias your listening.

Be aware of the barriers to listening

• We think we’re right and the other person is wrong
• We feel we have to provide help right away
• We prefer to talk rather than listen
• We are waiting for gaps or pauses to jump in with our response

And don’t forget to keep practising…


Christine Knott is MD of specialist training company Beyond the Box (www.beyondthebox.co.uk)

Published On: 30th Apr 2008 - Last modified: 13th Dec 2017
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  1. We have tended to find that background noise and distractions in the room are one of the biggest barriers to listening skills.

    We used dual ear noise cancelling headsets and this had a significant impact on the amount of background noise. also because there was less noise we found that agents tended not to speak so loudly.

    jamesportcullis 30 Apr at 2:42 pm
  2. Listening to the customers’ words is the point in understanding what kind of issue they are trying to describe .. and asking questions to make sure whether they were correctly understood by the agent is so vital … sometimes we presume that we know from the beginning what the customer’s case is about but we could be so wrong .. so then let’s people talk and agents listen !!!

    Ann@ 1 May at 5:12 pm
  3. Asking the right types of probing questions also help in listening, probing questions even though what the customer is saying me seem to be loud and clear, it may not be what he/she is trying to communicate. Ensuring agents understand the right questioning techniques and their uses is a big help to listening…

    Thelma 27 May at 2:14 pm
  4. This is a great article and I like the comment from Jamesportcullis.

    I want to comment on this article as a customer as well as a contact centre manager because I have witnessed everything I mention (visually & audibly) and I have been on the receiving end of the same as a customer.

    In my experience the two main factors in ensuring your employees’ listening skills are at the very best level is by first of all removing all distractions such as internet, email, desktop games and similar and make sure everyone answering the phone has a pad and pen. It is essential to be able to focus entirely on the customer’s voice and the customer file.

    Wearing a dual ear noise cancelling headset helps me personally; this can be complimented by ensuring everyone in the call centre knows not to distract someone on the phone – you all probably think this is common sense but you have no doubt seen someone today distract someone talking on the phone by asking what time their lunch is, saying goodbye, etc. Even the smallest distraction culminates in a weakened call experience and can be the difference between keeping/gaining or losing a customer.

    Call centre layout will also help, especially if you’ve adopted the use of call centre furniture with divides, etc.

    While most mobile phones are banned from most companies, how many times have you seen the girls staring in their handbags or the boys rushing to the toilets on a frequent basis? Again it’s common sense not to have a mobile phone switched on while you’re at work but how many times have you caught someone sending a sneaky text? As a matter of interest, if you think there’s no way anyone has their mobile phone on in your office, why not try the Bluetooth challenge? Just simply check the airwaves from your Bluetooth enabled phone or laptop – funny to see the whacky names of people, if nothing else…

    Distractions come in all shapes and sizes and there isn’t enough time in the day to list them all here.

    So to summarise: By removing all distractions and having team leaders and managers focusing some of their time and energy on these factors will enable customers to receive the very best attention from your employees.

    Darren Degiorgio 11 Aug at 4:30 pm
  5. Fantastic article!

    I find it useful especially to overcome STM (short term memory). It’s common in the call centre where people tend to ask “May I have your name again?” while customer has given their name at the begining of the call…

    Phoebe 8 Dec at 5:54 am
  6. Thanks, the tips is very useful!
    It reminds me that LISTEN attentively should come first & it is very crucial if we want to HELP customer efficiently without asking customer to REPEAT the same info twice.
    Repetition will kind of like reflect the customer service agent is not attentive & still in “not ready” mode to serve.

    Jeremy Ng 8 Dec at 8:47 am
  7. Listening to customer is a way to show respect to them and the “we care” attitude. We need to ask customer for info again if we are not sure rather then we make assumptions. It is important to let customer feel that we are listening not just hearing.

    Marv 8 Dec at 5:01 pm
  8. I am having a difficult time hearing my customers. I work for a bond company. We have the old standard black phones. I do not belive that our company will ever get a head sets for the office. Then the next best thing for me is to get some ear plugs. We do not have cube’s, I do not belive they are practicle for our office because many times we a have to interact together because we get more than one caller at the same time calling on one client. But your website does give me tips that I will impliment when I go back to work. Thank you.

    Sandy 28 Jan at 6:20 am
  9. Thanks so much for all the tips & comments, i have really learnt from them.I am just two months old in the call centre and presently we are given training on telephone etiquette, what is a call centre, handling customers complaints et cetera.
    This article has really made me to love call centre work more.
    Thank you, Ruth

    Ruth Asuquo 29 Jan at 6:00 pm
  10. i am preparing for a telephone interview.This article is quite helpful and detailed.

    oluseyi 19 Feb at 8:26 pm
  11. i have just gained a position in a call centre and found these tips very usefull, thank you.

    samantha 8 Jul at 11:23 pm
  12. I agree about the name. If someone tells you their name it is important to remember it.

    Monica B 30 Aug at 6:03 pm
  13. my shift just got over but i found this article superb as an agent.iam going to follow all tips from tomorrow.added this page as favourites…thanks

    saurabh sundariyal 3 Sep at 8:43 pm
  14. pls,send me tips for improve listening power

    Rajeeb lochan parhi 5 Jan at 9:53 am
  15. Great tips

    Dave 1 Feb at 9:30 pm

    RAMYA 22 Jul at 9:53 am
  17. thank you for all the above tips and hope to get more and more of it

    sanjay 13 Aug at 3:26 pm
  18. I hope you can send me some guidelines regarding how to improve inlistening.

    ernesto 7 Oct at 2:24 am
  19. thank you.the tip to keep a pen and paper handy is nice however they are not allowed on the floor 🙁

    saurabh sundariyal 2 Mar at 9:59 pm
  20. Thanks for great reminders of paying attention and listening, and it applies to all jobs not just those in the call centre.

    The following quiz shows just how shockingly little information we take in during a phone call. I admit I scored only 60% on the first attempt.


    karnail 24 Mar at 12:37 pm
  21. Hi,

    This is one great article.

    john 30 Mar at 2:28 pm
  22. I just took that quiz posted by karnail. I only got 50% on my first attempt, and considering I have an interview tomorrow to work in a call centre I think my listening skill need an overhaul. Great article.

    Quiz was –> http://videos.brainfoodextra.com.s3.amazonaws.com/Quiz-1/quiz.html

    Karl 6 Apr at 3:39 pm
  23. Listening is often depicted as a passive form of action. However, it is no less powerful. People who know how, and when, to listen properly can go a long way. I’d even go so far as to say that listening skills development can lead to a wealthier and more successful life!

    saroyo 16 Sep at 4:07 pm
  24. I think good listening is a life long learning skill, because emotions usually weaken what I have learned.

    Erich 21 Dec at 9:29 pm
  25. Fantastically crafted…The things mentioned in this article are actually obvious but oftenly forgotten by reps. I will use this as reminder to them.

    bridgette 1 Feb at 10:15 pm
  26. Great post, we agree that listening is really the key element here when talking to people on the phone. Remaining calm is also a bonus.

    Anon 14 Feb at 11:35 am
  27. I am delighted to read this article on Listening Skills. It reminds me of my certification presentation as a CS Trainer for Centum Learning Ltd on topic Listening Skills.

    This is a topic that has featured in most of my trainings, and agents still fall short of some these tips. I will refer all agents and TLs to this web page for a refresher. Thanks.

    Philip 30 Mar at 3:27 pm
  28. Hi guys! I just want to ask some questions and I hope that I can get reply from anyone here soon. I’ve been applying in BPO industries these past few days, and unfortunately I always fail on the call simulation and operations interview because I easily get confused when I start to feel nervous.. I know maybe this is all because I still don’t have a call center experience yet. I really want to work and build a carrer in this industry. I failed more than 20x already in this industry alone. In just 8 months. It may sound funny but I already mastered how to pass the interviews and exams without sweat. 🙂 Until I met operations interview and call simulation this past few days. How can I overcome this? Please help me.

    Aries 8 May at 4:51 pm
  29. nice it might helpful and i will follow it thank you

    venatadeepak 19 Sep at 8:42 am
  30. Thanq

    Bhanu 16 Nov at 2:08 pm
  31. its really an awesome article for the people working in call center industry.. this article is not just gonna help us in improving the listing skills but also in focus and confident on the call.. it also helps the agent in reducing the chances of a call going in wrong direction.

    Anonymous 15 Dec at 7:22 pm
  32. As I listen to the customer, I take notes and once they have conveyed their situation to me, I always start my part of the conversation with ” If I have this correct, you stated that ….” I find that this works real well for me. Also I know this sounds funny but I look at only one thing as I’m listening and it is an item on my desk. It keeps me from becoming distracted. Listening attentively to the customer is half the battle and one that is in your power to control. 🙂

    Tracy 28 May at 12:26 am
  33. Listeneing is such an important factor of communication…. I find that if i had not listened effectively or had not documented the information that the member/client had given me at first, I find that i have wasted the member’s time and had not given him/her my full attention… I feel that i have disappointed the member and even myslef…So thank you for the heads up…This is incorporated in our everyday lives

    Melanie 10 Jul at 7:08 pm
  34. Listening is an ART.

    Hearing is what we do all day it is part of our senses.

    Listening, means that you do just that, you Listen AND Understand, they have to go hand in hand in order to provide the customer with the service or resolution that they are looking for.
    Listen & Understand what the Customer is saying: Giving Verbal Nod’s as and when appropriate.
    Summarise at the end of the Customers Call.

    Thank you for reading.

    Beatrice Upton 10 Jul at 10:55 pm
  35. Thanks Christine!!!

    This article is something that I needed, when I started searching for it. This will help me in making the call Center associates improve on their listening skills.
    Apart from this, I personally feel that improvement on active listening will surely help the other parameters as well.

    Prateek Abrol 25 Jan at 8:37 pm
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