“Most of us consider ourselves to be good listeners and are therefore not motivated to learn to do what we already know.  We don’t recognise our own failure to listen well. We are, however, usually very aware of when others do not listen to us. Funny that!”    Paul O’Donoghue/ Mary Siegel – Are You Really Listening

Angry customers often don’t want answers – yet!

To be fair it’s not always our fault when we don’t listen well.  When customers are angry with us they tend to be asking a lot of angry questions.  If you can bear it, take a look at the angry participants on the Jerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle Show.  One person is hurling questions like rockets at the other side and questions are being flung back. Neither party is CAPABLE at that point in listening to any answers.

Of course if we hear an angry question we believe the customer is seeking an answer – rarely.  Unfortunately, when customers are angry they tend to fire a lot of rhetorical questions in quick succession.  Those type of questions are best avoided if possible. Try to get the customers to answer your questions – you want to calm them down, right!

We encounter different forms of non-listening in relation to Staff/Client interactions:

  • Corrective listening
  • Speed listening
  • Fix it listening

Corrective listening

Particularly with angry clients we tend to be very quick to put them straight, to correct a wrong assumption or wrong information.  As you are an expert in your job and the customer is not, what chance would the customer have of saying something that was incorrect without being corrected.   How do you feel when you are angry and someone ‘puts you straight’?

Speed listening

In a conflict situation we are often ‘hanging’ on the end of the other person’s sentences to dive in and have our say.  They can be doing the same to us. If that is the case, we are probably listening at speed. If you are not even taking a tiny pause after the customer has spoken it is unlikely that they will feel you are taking anything in.  Most complaints to organisations involve an accusation that staff don’t listen. Listening at speed is one of the main reasons clients get the impression staff are not listening – slow down to listen better (which actually speeds up the overall interaction as the customer feels listened to and stops repeating themselves).

Fix it Listening

Are you listening to understand the problem or are you thinking of how you are going to fix the problem?  If you are listening to fix the problem, you are probably five steps ahead of the customer and not listening properly.  Often the client just wants you to hear their complaint, and if this is the case you may be fixing something that doesn’t need fixing and making the situation much worse.

So to listen well, try to dodge those angry questions by asking some of your own, try to stop correcting the customer when they are in an angry state, slow down and listen to the problem before you try to fix it.