5 Levels of Listening During a Customer Service Call

Leaders who listen effectively are more successful. For IT teams, becoming a better listener is a key way to set apart good leaders from great ones. In this blog, we will explore the five levels of listening and their impact on leadership. From ignoring to empathetic listening, we’ll delve into each level and explain why listening well is vital for building trust and relationships. 

In Stephen Covey’s landmark book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he identified five levels of listening. The five levels of listening are ignoring, pretending, selective, attentive, and empathic. When you’re on a customer service call, you’re listening at one of these five levels, whether you realize it or not.

Covey’s Five Levels of Listening Are:

Ignoring, which is exactly what the name implies. The other person is speaking and you’re not paying any attention to them, perhaps even doing other activities while they’re speaking. On a customer service call, this could be when you’re playing a video game, checking social media, or doing anything else while your customer is describing their issue. It’s rude, inexcusable, and you certainly wouldn’t want someone to treat you that way.

Pretend listening is when you act like you’re listening by saying “Uh-huh” or nodding your head, but you’re not actually listening. As with ignoring listening, you’re doing something else while your customer is speaking, but you’re making automatic sounds as though you’re actually listening. In a way, pretend listening is worse than ignoring. At least when you engage in ignoring, you’re being honest!

Selective listening, which is when you listen only when the other person is saying something you’re interested in or agree with, but tune out when you lose interest. If you do this during a customer service call, you could miss important information from your customer that could influence how you respond. I used to talk about how my teenagers were really good at selective listening until I realized they learned it from me! I was modeling an undesirable behavior for my kids when I would selectively listen to what they were saying. I’m still probably guilty of this at times. I hope I’m better about now than I used to be!

Attentive listening is when you pay close attention to the other person, but while they’re speaking, you’re preparing your response. You’re thinking less about what they’re saying and more about what you want to say. Although attentive listening is far better than the three previous levels, it still places the focus on you and not on your caller. As with selective listening, you run the risk of missing information that could affect your response.

Empathic listening is when you listen to understand and remember what the other person is saying. You give them your full attention. You listen in a way that makes the other person feel heard and respected. When you use empathic listening during a customer service call, the other person can sense that you’re paying close attention. You’re less likely to miss bits of information you need to help resolve their issue.

To achieve empathic listening, be patient. Talk less and listen more. When you do talk, ask questions to gain a deeper, clearer understanding of the customer’s issue. Ask questions like a student, not as a prosecutor. Covey’s habit number five provides excellent guidance for achieving empathic listening: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Notice that listening at the four lower levels of ignoring, pretending, selective, and even attentive places the focus on you, while listening at the empathic level places the focus on the speaker. That’s actually a great way to check yourself. Ask yourself, “Where’s my focus?”

Think about a customer service call you’ve been on as a customer. Was the provider listening empathically or at one of the four lower levels of listening? Think about how you felt as you were describing your issue. Did you feel heard and respected? Now, think about a time when you were the customer service provider. Were you listening emphatically or at one of the four lower levels? How did your customer respond to you?

Now that you know the five levels of listening, use them to improve your customer service the next time a customer calls you.

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