Are you a good listener? How can you tell?

When you are talking on the phone it can be a little unnerving if the other person is totally silent. here's what happened to me and what i felt could be done to make it better.

Some of the skills you need on a help desk aren’t immediately obvious, a good working knowledge of the technology and the company that you are supporting is a given, but the smaller stuff counts for a lot as well.

Take the call I made today, where I wanted to get some stock transferred from one account to another.

I got the right bloke first time, which was a great start, told him who I was and what I wanted. Then I told him the account number, the items of stock I needed to move and where I wanted it moved to, the transaction was completed with 100% efficiency but I wasn’t happy.


Because all through the call, after the initial answer, the only voice heard was mine. Yes, you’re right, you shouldn’t interrupt a caller but you don’t need to, there were no noises from him, nothing that led me to believe that he was listening, that he understood, that he was even alive! In fact there was nothing to confirm that the job was done until I saw the result. I became less and less confident through the call, and I am used to the ways of our head office staff.

I wondered how a nervous customer might feel, how they might interpret the lack of response as rudeness, if they didn’t have a particularly good impression of the company might this kind of response reinforce their opinion?

There was no question that the person knew his job and that the task was completed without delay but he could have shown me that he was listening and understanding.

When you are speaking to someone face to face you can tell if the other person is listening; they nod, they make eye contact, they make small noises, “uhum, aha, I see,” -you get the picture.

On the phone you have to replace the non-verbal part of a conversation with the right sounds, they don’t have to be obtrusive but they must be there.

I felt like drafting a training course for the people who answer the phone at our head office. It would contain a lot of information about handling calls, sometimes trainers over do the checking of understanding by telling people to repeat the whole conversation, I don’t believe this to be necessary but a summary of the intent of the call is very valuable, it helps to clarify matters and allows you to check that you are both working on the same problem. The caller needs to hear that you are awake, alive, listening and understanding.

Repeating key pieces of information is essential, part numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, names – and it is a great courtesy to make sure that you confirm the spelling – checking these details makes sure that the job gets done in half the time. It is not enough merely to understand, you have to show the caller that you do. It isn’t hard to do, just a few mms, an aha or two, and repeating key pieces of information like numbers and names. It would have made me feel a lot better.