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How to Communicate With Customers: Listening and Body Language

Livingsta shares her positive experience in business administration, customer service, and education.

Effective communication involves many different skills.

Effective communication involves many different skills.

Communicating Effectively With Customers

Communication is a very important tool when it comes to customer service—and it involves more skill than you might think. To engage effectively with the public, a customer service advisor needs to focus on and adhere to a wide variety of characteristics.

In This Article

  • Hearing vs. Listening
  • How to Listen Actively
  • How to Read Body Language
  • How to Use Body Language Effectively

2.1 Describe the Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Most people think that hearing and listening are the same—but they're not. Hearing is just hearing sound; you hear sounds all the time, even when you are concentrating on something else. We tend to automatically filter sounds out, especially if they're constant noises we've become accustomed to. Examples include machinery, wind, rain, chatting, music, vehicles, etc.

Listening, on the other hand, is actually concentrating on a particular sound, voice or conversation. It can be considered one step up from hearing. When you listen, the brain processes the information, and you understand and sometimes respond to the things you're hearing.

When someone talks, you can hear their voice without listening to what they talk. It is just the sound that reaches your ears, but the complete information does not reach the brain. Just hearing things can lead to misunderstandings and missed information.

Listening is a very important skill you need when working in customer services or in any field that requires listening to people. When people talk, they express their feelings, thoughts and views; they tell you their needs and their problems. So in order to provide them with appropriate help and advice, you need to listen to what they say very carefully and understand them. It needs a lot of attention and concentration. That way, the person who talks knows that their feelings are acknowledged. It makes the person feel that you genuinely care for them.

Four Categories of Hearing and Listening

According to toastmasters.org, hearing and listening fall into four basic categories.

  1. Non-listener – One who hears the words spoken but is indulged or pre-occupied in other thoughts
  2. Passive listener – One who hears the words spoken but does not understand or absorb the conversation or hearing completely
  3. Listener – One who listens to the speaker and takes in or absorbs what they think is important.
  4. Active listener – One who has their complete focus on the speaker and listens to every single word with full concentration and without any distraction.

Every listener will fall into one of the above four categories. In order for one to be a good listener, one has to be an active listener.

communicate-effectively-with-customers-part-1

2.2 Describe How You Listen Actively

Active listening is hearing what people are actually saying, word by word. Listening skills are very important when you work with people, especially with customer service. Listening skills have a major impact on your job performance and the way you build relationships with colleagues and customers. We listen:

  • Beacuse we need to obtain the required information
  • Because we need to understand completely what the speaker says
  • To learn new things
  • To make error-free decisions
  • To provide appropriate advice and guidance
  • For entertainment (away from work)

Being a better listener will help you to be more productive, improve your performance, will help you negotiate things and help achieve workplace success. To be an active listener, one needs to practise active listening. One has to make the effort to concentrate on what the speaker says and to understand the speaker too.

You need to avoid distractions, not get bored, stay focussed and show interest in what the speaker is trying to say or convey. There might be noise and distractions around you. But you need to learn to ignore them and stay focussed and concentrate.

How to Show That You Are Listening

An active listener has to acknowledge the speaker; tell them that you are paying attention to what they are saying by looking at them directly and not having any distractive thoughts in your mind. An active listener also has to look for the speaker’s body language, as it can convey many things.

You need to show that you are listening and prove this by nodding your head, smiling, showing appropriate facial expressions when they speak, maintaining proper body language to show that you are taking interest in what they are saying and also acknowledging them.

An active listener should not assume things and judge anything by themselves. They need to provide feedback on what they have listened to, reflect back on what they have understood and clarify it with the speaker by asking questions in between and repeating certain conversations to clarify that they have listened and understood the speaker correctly. This also gives the speaker confidence and hope that you have listened, you are ready to help and you genuinely care. Summarising the conversation at the end will help resolve any doubts or misunderstandings.

An active listener also needs to stay calm and listen and not interrupt, as this can make the speaker frustrated, make them forget things and disrupt the flow. A question you have in your mind might be answered if the speaker is let to speak without interrupting. So it is good to wait for the speaker to finish and then ask any questions.

In the end, while responding to the conversation or what you have listened to, be open and honest. Put forward your thoughts and opinions in a way that does not hurt the speaker; in other words, respect the speaker’s feelings and thoughts while responding to them and treat them the way you want to be treated. This applies to every role and situation.

Body language

Body language

2.3 Describe How You Read Both Positive and Negative Body Language

Body language is a very important aspect that has significant importance in communications and relationships as it shows the feelings, behaviour and meaning of what people say. It is involved everywhere where communication is involved, not only with spoken words. It can be either positive or negative. It can be understood by the way the speaker or the customer behaves or reacts.

Positive body language is displayed when a person is happy and comfortable, whereas negative body language is exhibited when a person is unhappy, disturbed, angry and uncomfortable.

Positive Body Language

Positive body language tells us that the person is reliable and shows that they are interested and involved. People, when portraying positive body language, have a relaxed posture with arms and legs relaxed, maintain good eye contact, smile, nod in agreement with acceptable positive responses, take notes of important information, lean towards you while speaking and have warm gestures. The breathing is normal, and they are willing to listen and provide more required information.

Negative Body Language

Negative body language is not so good, as the person portraying it can be less reliable and less interested or involved. This is not always the case, as they can display negative body language when they are tired or have too many things going on all at once.

People when displaying negative body language might look tense and have their arms stiff, legs shaking, and heads resting in their hands; they may yawn, be impatient and interruptive, be distracted and not have proper eye contact. They will have heads down, rub their face or neck, will lean away from you, have a stiff face, frown, try to hide their face, check the time and can be aggressive and abusive at times.

Combinations of Gestures

People portraying either positive or negative body language do not just portray one gesture at a time, or they do not portray all gestures altogether at all times. People portray a combination of gestures. For example, “lean forward, smile and nod”.

People’s gestures can transition quickly. For example, from sitting straight to leaning forward, from smiling to frowning, from straight arms to crossed arms—but that doesn’t mean that they have moved from positive to negative portrayal of body language. One needs to look, analyse and understand body language. One needs to observe a person’s body language right from the start to the end of a meeting.

If someone looks uncomfortable, you need to have a positive approach and make the person feel welcome and important so that they feel better and start displaying positive body language. You can also ask the person if there's anything you can do to make them feel more comfortable.

Don't Solely Rely on Body Language

Body language can only be used partially to decipher a person’s behaviour or attitude towards the situation or conversation and cannot be used as the only tool to rely upon. Other aspects of the conversation or interaction have to be considered. The person’s physical movements and facial expressions are just part of the conversation, so one needs to also consider to the words that person speaks and how they feel.

One also needs to look at the cultures of the speaker, as 'being reserved,' 'crossing the arms' and 'hanging the head down' can be part of their culture and, therefore, should not be taken as negative body language. So the combination of everything has to be put together before you jump to any conclusions.

2.4 Explain How You Use Body Language Effectively

Body language plays a very important role in human communication, be it professional or personal. It helps people understand each other through their body movements and gestures. If you have a good understanding of body language, most of what the other person tries to tell you will be understood from their body language.

So much information like honesty, confidence, reliability, respect, friendliness, comfortableness, hatred, enmity, approval, disagreement, happiness, sadness, excitement, anger, interest, boredom, tiredness, involvement etc, can be understood through body language. We use almost all parts of our body to send signals to others, and that is what body language comprises. Examples are eyes, mouth, tongue, lips, forehead, shoulders, arms, fingers, legs and feet.

How I Use Body Language

I use body language and use others' body language to communicate effectively with people. Sometimes there can be confusion when a person says exactly the opposite of what they portray. For example, displaying an angry and upset face and saying that everything’s fine. In cases like these, one has to take time to observe and analyse the person's body language to determine the truth.

I use body language to communicate effectively with people. I maintain eye contact with the speaker, listener or audience, but that doesn’t mean that I can stare at one person constantly, because it creates uneasiness. I shake hands in a professional environment, and shaking hands can be very informative. The handshake has to be firm. I try my best not to cross my arms, as this will tell others that I am not open to new ideas and thoughts. I sit straight and relaxed, smile, and nod my head for approval/listening.

The face reflects someone’s feelings and thoughts. As they say, “The face is the index of the mind”. So many thoughts are portrayed through facial expressions. I am true to myself and do not wear any fake expressions. My body language remains in sync with what I am saying, and this helps confidence building.

When using hand gestures, I am careful not to offend anyone and use gestures that show that I am open to thoughts and ideas. I do not do anything else like doodling with my hands, as this signals to others that I am not interested or involved. I also use facial expressions while showing signs of empathy, happiness, surprise, eagerness etc. I take into account what I have listened to or what I have to convey and talk about what I feel, but in a way that does not affect anyone. Where there are doubts, I ask questions to clarify things.

I hope that you found the information in this article useful. This is for reference purposes only. If you have any questions or wish to share your experience, please do so in the comment section below.

All the best!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Comments

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 20, 2019:

It is said that communication is the key to improve the business of a company and it is imperative that we should communicate in a precise form always keeping the objectives of the business in our mind.

Good reading. Thanks.

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on September 12, 2016:

Hello Teaches12345, thank you for your support and thoughts on this hub. Listening itself is a skill that is disappearing these days with extensive use of technologies, etc. Only if people listened, a lot of problems can be solved easily and effectively. Thank you for stopping by. Have a great week ahead!

Dianna Mendez on September 08, 2016:

Another good lesson on professionalism. If more service associates would understand the importance of reflective listening they would gain loyal customers.

livingsta (author) from United Kingdom on September 03, 2016:

Hello Bill,

Thank you so much. I hope you are well.

Dahlia :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 31, 2016:

It's always nice hearing from you. Welcome back!