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Active vs. Passive Listening in the Contact Center

Brian Jameson

How do you listen to your customers? Let's ask the same question a different way: how do you listen to your customers over their preferred channel - phone, email, RSS, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp? The whizzing sound you hear right now is your head spinning. But really, it simply begins with how you listen to your customers.

Much has been written about how agents communicate with customers over the phone and how the social customer is changing the game in terms of customer engagement.

But before we even begin to engage the customer, the agent must listen, process, and react (or not react at all) to the customer's pain or issue. As a customer, how many times have you thought, or even said, "you are not listening to my problem or issue." To address these matters, let's break down the art of listening into its two most basic forms: active and passive.

Wikipedia defines active listening as "... requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what they heard. The ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding."

Active listening is the equivalent of what contact center agents do on the phone every day to help a customer return a product, ask a support question, understand a bill statement, or just plain-old offer up solutions to resolve their issues.

At least, that is what your customers' expect when they call you. Possibly from your personal experiences, you know this is not always the case.

We are all humans, and as humans we want to know that our message is being received, especially when you’re a paying customer. In a customer-to-agent interaction via telephone, the only human sense we are able to use is our ears. No visual cues, no smell, no touch, no taste, only words and tone of voice. Showing humility and empathy are the results of an active listener.

On the other hand, there's passive listening. It could be in the form of a positive customer tweet that an agent notices, but rather than respond, the agent chooses to tell her friend about the positive comment – with no direct communication back to the customer.

Passive listening in the contact center is a relatively new concept, built upon the fact that multiple interaction channels feed into the agent desktop. Passive listening as an agent activity alone is not a good value proposition. It would be difficult to justify and measure the cost/reward for agents filtering through tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts.

But thanks to new social media monitoring software tools which have risen in popularity for obvious reasons, the contact center can now embrace passive listening. Social media monitoring software is sort of like 10,000+ drones scanning the internet according to the parameters and instructions you have given it. You can listen in 24/7, and it never takes a coffee break. The process of passively listening has become the software’s job, and much to the contact center’s benefit.

Now that we’ve dissected the art of listening into active and passive, now what? It’s important that agents understand how they can improve their active listening skills. One tactic would be to find common communication points in the customer workflow where the Agent can demonstrate understanding to what the customer is saying. It could be as simple as repeating the issue back to the customer and confirming the problem. Your customer will appreciate it.

On the passive listening side of things, look at how you can leverage social media monitoring software tools (such as proactive response) for use in the contact center. Use passive listening to give your agents new ways to ultimately engage customers in need and/or disseminate information to other departments in the company to improve products, marketing programs, and engineering components.

This post was syndicated with approval from author. The original post can be seen on the RiverStar Customer Experience Blog