Active Listening Skills for Customer Service - Updated

Update:  After putting my head together with some of the other operators, we determined a couple of other things that can improve your active listening skills. 

When we bring on a new employee, the first thing they learn is customer service, and the most important skill we focus on is listening. Customer service is about being an active listener. You can't just "hear" what people are saying, you have to really be grabbing onto the words and turning them over in your head.

What does it take to be an active listener? There are a lot of rules to active listening but we break these skills down into basic steps. These steps have improved our customer service responses and our communication.

(NEW) Clarify The Message

One of the best tools when speaking to a customer is the ability to clarify the message they are trying to send.  You never want to make assumptions when trying to decide what a customer wants. Most of the time you will get that assumption wrong and have to go back to the customer. It's always better when you're not clear to make sure you understand. A lot of times a customer uses words or phrases that might not be what you would use. You can just repeat it back to them in another way. "It sounds like you need..." or "Let me make sure I understand..." are great ways to start.

(NEW) Test Your Listening Skills

The Active Empathetic Listening (AEL) measure has eleven key items that test how well you sense, process, and respond when you listen to someone else. Sensing is the way you indicate you are taking in the information, processing is how well you construct the narrative delivered, and responding is how you ask questions to make sure you understand.  Take the AEL test and find out where you stand as a great listener and how you can improve. 

Focus on Understanding

Engage in communication with the goal of "understanding" instead of "understood". When your customer is speaking, it's best to focus on what the customer is saying, rather than trying to get a head start on how you're going to respond. Once someone in a conversation goes on the defensive, you are less likely to come to a resolution.

Give Your Undivided Attention to the Person Speaking

This may seem like common sense but devices like cell phones and the constant access to email are roadblocks to active listening. When a customer calls, disengage from the emails you’re working on, the spreadsheet you are clicking through, or the text message that might be waiting on you. Engage fully in the conversation that is present and not the one that is waiting for you to type a response.

Play Pretend

The more I can act like I'm face to face with a customer, the better our conversation goes. Imagine the customer across from you and nod when you understand. Responding to the customer as you would if you were face to face, you will be an even better listener. I will smile while I speak and even nod my head as the customer tells me what’s going on. It makes me feel like I truly understand the customer's needs.

It's not always easy to listen and even more so when we are immediately trying to figure out what we are going to say or have too many things going on at once. If we can just stop for a moment and become a more active listener, it will improve our communication with everyone.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

How to Make Conference Calls Fun

Okay, maybe "fun" is the wrong idea here. The words conference call are not exactly going to inspire anyone to think of a delightful day at the circus or spending a beautiful afternoon whirling around on your favorite roller coaster.

When people search for how to make a conference "fun", I think that they are looking for ways to make calls more effective. Implementing some of the rules on your next conference can help with the lack of effectiveness.

Rule #1 – Only Have Conferences When You Need To

This brings up a good question. What is "need to"? It’s going to vary for you but Al Pittampalli, the author of The Modern Meeting Standard, says you should only have a meeting when there is something to decide. This isn’t going to cover everything and it’s not going to apply for all circumstances, but it is a good benchmark to start from.

Rule #2 – Consider Including Video Conferencing

Even if you’re meeting with coworkers you’ve seen a number of times, integrating video conferencing can help increase the effectiveness of your meetings. A video element adds the ability to read non verbal communication to a meeting, as well as providing a way to keep everyone accountable. Not just for attendance, but for how well they are paying attention. If you see someone staring off into space or working on something else, you can call on them and bring them back to the topic at hand.

Rule #3 – Prepare for the Call

Finally, make sure you prepare for your meetings and conferences. No one wants to be in a meeting where the moderator is stumbling over their notes. When you prepare, you can get to the meet of the meeting quickly and efficiently. You don't want to waste anyone's time, and your participants will appreciate that. One way to prepare for your call is to write out your agenda and make sure you know what to say regarding each point.

Are you following these conference call rules? What rules can you contribute to make your conference calls more fun?

Web Conferencing Review - Updated Features

We have some exciting additions to our web conferencing platform.

Video Conferencing

Share your video as part of the web conference so participants feel like they are in the same room.

Desktop and Application Sharing

Our program allows moderators to share their screens with a simple download. Participants observe as you navigate through websites or share your programs directly from your PC.

YouTube Video Sharing

Share your video directly with participants using the URL from youtube.com. Pause and play the video as needed.

Added Timed Polls

Put a time limit on responses from participants.

No Download for Participants

Participants will continue to access all of these new features through the web.

Stay tuned for audio streaming over the web for participants.

Call today 800.989.9239 for a one on one demo.

Distance Learning Not Just For College Students

With budget shortfalls affecting school districts across the United States, a lot of public schools are turning to virtual learning to ease some of the burden of these shortfalls.

When I started researching for this blog post I found that here in Texas, we have the Texas Virtual Academy, which is 100% supported and accredited by our school districts. I did some quick asking around in the office and found out that one of our operators has a child that started the program this year. I talked to him to give me some of his first impressions about the program.

What's Cool

  • Approved curriculum from the school district
  • Monitoring tools to keep kids accountable
  • Materials provided go well beyond text books. He informed me that not only did the school provide his child a preloaded desktop computer, they also threw in jump ropes and yoga balls for PE, as well as beakers for chemistry assignments.
  • There are also no additional grading requirements. Meaning all of the grades are submitted directly to the district - so there is no additional information for the parents to fill out or send in.
  • More one on one attention from the teachers and students are required to do at least six hours of logged work per day.

The ideas of distance learning are not exclusive to the state of Texas. In fact, a lot of school districts are embracing these ideas as financial burdens begin to affect the ability to hire more educators. Distance learning isn't just about saving money, it also exposes students to different teachers and classroom set ups.

Imagine the student that attends a large school district where the student to teacher ratio is 30:1 and this student struggles in the subject of Math. Now take that same student and virtually connect him or her to a classroom in small town America where the student to teacher ratio is 15:1. I wonder if the extra attention might help to boost this students grades.

We have an education system that if full of different perspectives and loyal educators. Embracing distance learning is going to give students the chance to be exposed to a number of the different kinds of classroom experiences.

What do you think about the potential benefits or drawbacks of distance learning?

Situation Room: A Break Down of Non-Verbal Communication

Image from the Official White House Flickr

It’s the iconic photo that will wind up in history books. As President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and other members of the defense team watched the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound; this picture has quickly become the visual representation of a historic moment.

This picture can give us a lot of insight into what the senior members of the White House staff were thinking, as this photo is clearly an inside look into what the staff was thinking. When they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, it is true because a photo freezes a moment and gives you a chance to study the non-verbal cues of a moment.

Notice that no one in the room is standing close enough to touch each other and that the majority of the men in the room have their arms crossed over their chest. This is a sign of aggression. When we feel aggressive, we do not want anyone in our personal space, and we cross our arms over our chest as a way to protect ourselves against something we do not want to see or hear. It is a protective measure.

It’s obvious that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is feeling a very strong emotion to whatever it is that she is seeing on the screen. Perhaps it was the moment that Osama Bin Laden’s face first appeared on the screen. Perhaps it’s the moment that the “kill shot” was recorded. We may never know, but Hilary’s hand over her mouth, is an expression of disbelief. The images she sees unfolding in front of her are so unfathomable, that she feels uneasy and distrusting.

President Obama’s sitting position indicates that he clearly feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. His back is slouched, his arms on his knees, and the thin, grim lines of his face. There’s a lot going on here. His posture indicates that he feels the weight of whatever is going on, but his face is the most interesting to me. First of all, it’s obvious that he looks tired. I’m sure that making a national security decision like this could keep you up at night. For me, the most telling non-verbal cue for Barack Obama is the shape of his mouth.

His mouth is shaped in a thin line, nearly straight across. I can identify two emotions from such a non-verbal cue: anger and concern. Clearly whatever is going on will change the world, it’s a decision that was made with great care, and now, to watch it unfold, it simply brings concern. President Obama, like all Americans, was affected by the attacks of September 11, 2011, and to be in a position where you get to see the man who was responsible, brought to justice, in my opinion would bring nothing but the original anger back to the surface.

We may never know what scene was being observed of the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, but this picture will be an iconic and important moment.

In business and relationships, we often wish for the ability to read the minds of others. It’s not a thing that we can do, but what we can do is read someone’s body language to at least get an idea of what someone is thinking. This picture is a perfect representation of how much body language can indicate in any particular situation.

Non-verbal cues are important to communication and while the subject matter of your video conference or meeting is probably not going to be as intense as watching a raid on the Most Wanted Man in America, your body language will say a lot about the way you’re feeling.

The Perfect Online Meeting Solution for Direct Sellers

Guest Post from Jennifer Fong, jenfongspeaks.com 

I’ve been involved with webinar technology from close to its very inception. Back in my instructional design days, I remember working with trainers employed by the corporation I was working with, trying to create an instructional script format that would make it easy for them to deliver training using this new technology.

Since then, I’ve watched the providers of this technology move in and out of prominence, and watched the pricing structure largely favor corporations with big budgets. This has troubled me a bit, because I’ve lately had the opportunity to work with a lot of direct sellers (think Tupperware or Mary Kay ladies) and see the online meeting tool provider market largely ignore this key demographic (which is a mistake, since at last count there were 15.1 million people involved in direct selling in the US alone, and more than 59 million worldwide.)

You see, direct sellers make a lot of presentations, but often they are moms (or dads) living on a family budget, and 50 bucks a month or more can often be a big hit. Add to that the fact that, until recently, all you could really do was PowerPoint, and these providers really didn’t do what we needed them to.

There are a few reasons why direct sellers need a good online meeting tool:

  1. Online group sales events (“online parties”)
  2. Online events to present the business opportunity
  3. Sales force training
  4. New product roll-outs

As part of these meetings, we typically need to share information, possibly a live demo or two, and often do some group browsing of websites.

In order to really effectively do these things, here are some of the features that direct sellers have said they would find incredibly useful in an online meeting tool.

  1. Reasonable pricing.
  2. Video. In the direct selling business, face to face communication is a must. It would also be great to enable web cams of anyone participating.
  3. Embedded chat. Chat can be a great way to share websites, as well as facilitate discussion with participants.
  4. PowerPoint/Presentation capabilities. This is a no-brainer for any kind of presentation.
  5. Live browsing that enables each viewer to independently interact with the website being shared. Especially when doing group sales presentations, we need to be able to take people to a specific website and then allow them to shop independently.
  6. Easy recording, with the ability to download that recording (not tied to a specific provider to keep/reuse the recording.) Our training libraries are a huge asset for our businesses, and it’s useful for folks who couldn’t make, for example, a live product rollout to still be able to see it.
  7. Polls to keep participants engaged.
  8. Viewable attendee list that captures contact info and makes it available to the moderator after the event.

Direct sales provide such an incredible opportunity for online meeting tool providers. We’re typically a loyal bunch, we are the poster child of word of mouth (we’re constantly sharing great resources with one another), and our use of certain technologies can put those tools in front of millions. It’s time for the online meeting industry to take a closer look at this demographic. There’s a world of opportunity just waiting for them.

Do you do online sales that involve live presentations? How do you use online meeting technology to facilitate those presentations? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.


About the author:

Jennifer Fong is a social media speaker and consultant who helps direct selling companies and individual direct sellers use social media effectively as a business building tool. A former direct sales company CEO, Jennifer built her company from the ground up, and understands what it takes to build, lead, and train a team, as well as the underlying principles of any direct selling business: network, sell, and recruit. She combines her expertise in direct sales with her passion for social media marketing to provide direct sellers with the knowledge they need to put social media to work for their businesses in a strategic and profitable way.

Jennifer offers free information about social media and how to use it for direct sales on her blog at http://jenfongspeaks.com. Find her on Facebook at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks, and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jenfongspeaks.

Get Connected to Your Staff, Students, and Speakers.

Tis the season for … snow, ice, and roads that you can’t even look at without spinning wildly out of control. In most parts of the country there is one constant in every winter season – winter weather, and it causes a headache. Seattle, WA and Buffalo, NY have already experienced a snow storm, one that snarls traffic, and makes getting to work nearly impossible.

Earlier this week, there were reports that we were going to get some “record-breaking snowfall” here in DFW. That report has since started to fade from the forecast, but if the early season computer models are already starting to predict snowfalls, I can only imagine what will happen come January.

Not only is this the beginning of the winter weather season but it’s also the holidays – a time of year when non-profit organizations are hosting fundraisers. What happens when an event you planned has to be cancelled or if your guests cannot safely arrive? As an educator, how do you prepare when a crucial lecture must be rescheduled? In government, you can’t run a country without being able to get people in the same place – so how do you continue when you can’t get to work, school, or your event?

Check with your conference call provider to see what their capacity is for last minute / large events. Get everyone on your conference call and let business continue as usual. Even if you’re in sunny California with a speaker who’s stranded in their hometown, you can get a phone hooked up to the loudspeakers and have your speaker call in. Their presentation still happens and your guests are still happy. Your event happens, despite Mother Nature’s disagreement with you.

Where was the worst place you were stranded during snow or ice? How did you continue conducting your business or did you crawl under a blanket and come out after everything thawed out?

Using the ICEPACk

Until today, I had never heard of ICEPAC, but this acronym stands for the steps of creating a great presentation. Whether you have weeks to craft, or get handed the project last minute, this acronym--and the other tips in the article--break down a presentation into easy-made parts.

ICEPAC

Interest - If no one cares about a subject, then why bother with a web conference? If they’re supposed to care, then it’s your job to make them care. Think about how your message will affect your participants daily lives and business, and emphasize the more interesting points.

Comprehension - There’s such a thing as too much detail, especially if your participants will get information overload. Keep data to bite sized chunks, avoid jargon, and cater to their--not your--expertise.

Emphasis - The main message is the whole point of your presentation, so emphasize it. Put key information on its own slide. Pause after saying a main point, or even precede it with, “This is important.”

Participation - Getting your participants involved creates more investment on their part. Utilize Q&A often, or ask impromptu, “soft ball” questions. Use the Socratic Method to draw people out, and praise highly when it works.

Accomplishment - For people to be more open to ideas, they have to like the ideas. And the best way of getting them to like ideas is for them to be a part of their creation. With good participation, you’re halfway there, but the web conference as a whole should be satisfying with something completed, decided on, or improved.

Confirmation - This is more than follow-up after the conference, it includes during as well. Q&A throughout is good to make sure you’re on track. And it never hurts to get participants to repeat their assignments so you know they understand.

Try ICEPAC when you create your next presentation and let us know how it worked for you.

Storm Spotters Use Video Conferences on Mobile Devices

Storm Spotters Use Video Conferencing On Mobile Devices

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated by the weather. When severe weather strikes, you can find me online tracking the storms and watching the coverage across the United States. I love to watch storms as they pop, fire, and start to hook around, causing that intimidating tornado warning. As long as the warning sirens around me aren’t sounding, I am all over the coverage and the radars. Recent outbreaks of the severe weather have shown me something very interesting.

Storm chasers are using their mobile devices to broadcast their chase to the local weather stations. If you like watching the weather you’ve probably stopped over at severestudios.com or chasertv.com. These are chasers who have live streaming video from their cars of the storms they are chasing. Not all storm spotters are equipped with these kinds of devices and for a meteorologist, who is broadcasting live in studio, the storm spotter is essential to knowing where the worst of the weather is located.

With mobile video conferencing becoming more widely available on devices, chasers without a partnership with a streaming website can call their local weatherman and show them what they see, as well as telling them where they are. One of the hardest things about storms is that they are unpredictable and while the National Weather Service and local meteorologists do the best they can, it’s an imperfect system. Having chasers in the field gives you an ability that wasn’t there for prediction ten years ago: Knowing exactly where a tornado is on the ground.

Radar signatures are very helpful but there is no sure fire way to say that a storm will put a tornado down at a specific location. Unfortunately, confirmation of tornados to broadcasters only comes in the form of damage reports from emergency management, and for those reporting the damage, the information is simply too late. Imagine the ability to have spotters everywhere with mobile devices, streaming as they watch the clouds roll through. Meteorologists could then see as funnel clouds form, drop to the ground, and kick up debris.

Imagine the warning you could give if you could say there was a tornado on the ground on a particular street or intersection. As someone who lives in an area that is prone to tornado touchdowns, I have to say that the use of this technology could give greater piece of mind to the public, as well as giving meteorologists a better idea of how tornados form, and what makes for great conditions for tornados.

How do you think video conferencing on mobile devices will change the way storms are predicted?