Communicate effectively with customers - Part 1
Communication is a very important tool when it comes to customer service and this involves a lot of other skills and characteristics that a customer service advisor needs to focus on and adhere to. This unit covers discussions relating to hearing and listening, the different types of listeners, how to actively listen, how to read both positive and negative body language and how to use body language effectively.
This is a level 2 unit with a credit value of 5.
This unit has been divided into 3 parts for ease of navigation and to not overwhelm anyone with massive chunks of text. If you wish to have a look at Part 2 and Part 3 of this unit, please follow the links below.
2.1 Describe the difference between hearing and listening.
Most people think that hearing and listening are the same, while it is not. Hearing is just hearing sound, you hear sounds all the time even when you are concentrating on any work, you just hear it, and you do not take it seriously, as it can be any constant sound around you all the time. Examples can be sounds of machines, wind, rain, chatting, music, vehicles, water flowing etc.
Listening is actually concentrating on a particular sound or voice or conversation. It can be considered as an advancement to just hearing. When you listen, you concentrate on the sound, and the brain processes the information and you understand things or respond to them.
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, 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 talk, 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.
According to toastmasters.org, hearing and listening fall into four basic categories.
- Non-listener – One who hears the words spoken, but is indulged or pre-occupied in other thoughts
- Passive Listener – One who hears the words spoken, but does not understand or absorb the conversation or hearing completely
- Listener – One who listens to the speaker and takes in or absorbs what they think is important.
- 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.
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 services. Listening skills have a major impact on your job performance and the way you build relationships with colleagues and customers.
- We listen because,
- We need to obtain the required information
- We need to understand completely what the speaker says
- We listen to learn new things
- We listen to make error free decisions
- We listen to provide appropriate advice and guidance
- We also listen 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 take the effort to concentrate on what the speaker speaks 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.
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 correct facial expressions when they speak, maintain proper body language to show that you are taking interest in what they are saying and also acknowledging.
An active listener should not assume things and judge anything by themselves. They need to feedback on what they have listened, reflect back on what they have understood and clarify it with the speaker by asking questions in between and by repeating certain conversations to clarify that you have listened and understood it correctly. This also gives the speaker confidence and hope that you have listened, you are ready to help and that 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 in between as this can make the speaker frustrating, 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 to what you have listened, 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. Also treat them the way you wish yourself to be treated. This applies to every role and situation.
The difference between hearing and listening
Hearing vs Listening
Do you think listening is important?
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 comes along everywhere where communication is involved, as sometimes these are used accompanied or not 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 portrayed when a person is happy and comfortable, whereas negative body language is portrayed when a person is unhappy, disturbed, angry and uncomfortable.
Positive body language:
Positive body language is a good one, it tells us that the person is reliable and shows that they are interested and involved. People when portraying a positive body language, sit in a relaxed posture, with arms and legs relaxed, maintain good eye contact, smile, nod in agreement with positive acceptable 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. It is not always the case, as they can portray these features when they are tired or have too many things going on all at once.
People when portraying negative body language might look tensed and have their arms stiff, legs shaking, resting head on their hands, yawn, be impatient and interruptive, be distracted, not have proper eye contact, 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 time and can be aggressive and abusive at times.
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 transit from one to another. For example, sit straight to lean on, smile to frown, 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 end of meeting.
If a person looks uncomfortable you need to have a positive approach and make the person feel welcome and important so that they feel better and start portraying positive body language. You can also ask the person if there are any needs or requirements so that they are made to feel comfortable.
Body language can only be used partially to decide on a person’s behaviour or attitude towards the situation or conversation, and cannot be used as the only tool to rely upon. Other realities in the conversation or interaction have to be considered. The person’s physical moves and facial expressions are just part of the conversation, so one needs to give importance to the words that person speaks and how they feel.
One also needs to look at cultures of the speaker, as, 'being reserved,' 'crossing the arms' and 'hanging the head down' can be part of their culture and not taken as negative body language. So the combination of everything have to be put together before jumping into a conclusion or decision rather than relying upon just body language.
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 understand a person 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 of. Examples are eyes, mouth, tongue, lips, forehead, shoulders, arms, fingers, legs and feet.
I use body language and use others' body language to effectively communicate with people. Sometimes there can be confusions when a person says exactly the opposite of what they portray. Example, showing 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 truth by observing that person’s body language.
I use body language to effectively communicate with people. I maintain eye contact with the speaker or listener or audience, but that doesn’t mean that I can stare at a person constantly, because it creates uneasiness. I shake hands in a professional environment and shaking hands can tell a lot. The handshake has to be firm. I try my best not to cross arms, as this will tell others that I am not open to ideas and facts. I sit straight and relaxed, smile, and nod my head for approval / listening.
Face reflects someone’s feelings and thoughts. As they say, “Face is the index of the mind”. So most of the thoughts are portrayed through facial expressions. I am natural and behave the way I am and do not put up any fake expressions as this will also show dishonesty. I maintain my body language in sync with what I speak, 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 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 or what I have to convey, and talk what I feel, but in a way that it does not affect anyone. Where there are doubts, I ask questions to clarify things.
Make Body Language Your Superpower
I hope that you found the information in this hub useful. This is purely for reference purpose only. If you have any questions or wish to share your experience, please do so in the comment section below.
All the best!