Your help desk can do better. Here’s how

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Active listening is, perhaps, one of the most undervalued skills in the industry. Yet it’s the one sure-fire path to keeping customers satisfied. So, why is it so hard to find help desk employees equipped with this vital skill set? Let’s take a look. 

What is active listening?

Active listening is behaving in a way that reassures the other person that you are actually paying attention.  It’s more than just hearing the other person. Actively listening means processing the information that you have received. If you’re doing this, you’re combining body language and verbal cues to demonstrate that you understand what’s being said.  In a help desk environment, active listening can realistically only be communicated through verbal communication.

Gain more tips on becoming a better listener here.

Why it matters

1. The customer needs know that their call is important

Think about it like this: When have you ever called a help desk just to chat? When customers call in they have a problem they’re trying to fix. They’re frustrated. Sometimes they’re even angry. If customers don’t believe that the person on the other end of the line is genuinely concerned, the call won’t go well. Dissatisfied customers almost always lead to complaints. Customer complaints take time and cost money to resolve.

2. It will help your employees do their jobs better

When your employees do the same task over and over again it’s easy for them to check out. But when equipped with active listening skills the employee will place more focus on the customer. This will decrease the chances of them misunderstanding the situation and giving the wrong advice.

3. The help desk will get more information from the customer

When the customer feels that the help desk employee is actually listening, they’ll likely share more information. The more information the help desk employee gets from the customer, the more accurate their advice will be. The more accurate their advice, the more likely the customer is to use the service again.

4. It improves the quality of questions

The more information the better, right? Actively listening helps ask the right questions at the right time. The four main types of questions (open, probing, pre-set and closed questions) are most effective when used in tandem with active listening.

5. It improves overall customer service

As mentioned, the more information the help desk employee is able to obtain from the customer, the more accurate and helpful their advice is likely to be. It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many help desk employees go into heard-it-all-before mode and stop paying attention the moment they hear the problem. Taking in all of the information (rather than just the parts that sound important) helps both the customer and help desk employee have a positive experience.

How to learn active listening skills

The most obvious and easiest way to do this is through call recordings. Your quality team will be able to aid you in this as, unfortunately, they will have examples of poor calls where it's abundantly clear that the help desk employee was not listening to the customer, let alone using active listening skills. If you plan on using call recordings, make sure you provide a range of examples. Before offering any guidance, let your staff assess the calls on their own.

Ask your staff:

  • Is the help desk employee making any verbal acknowledgement of what the customer is saying?
  • Is the help desk employee asking questions and are they relevant?
  • What tone is the help desk employee using? Do they sound interested, engaged, bored, switched off, happy, angry, frustrated etc.?

There are several exercises you can use to help your team make their calls more successful. For example, you can divide your staff into pairs and roleplay. Have one play the role of the customer while the other maintains their position as help desk worker. During their practice call have them implement the strategies outlined above. This will give everyone better insight into the customer’s experience and why it is so vital to actively listen.

If your help desk staff perfects the art of active listening, they'll provide a better service to your customers. Great customer service means happier customers, less complaints and more trust in your company.

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Rich Gilbane

Rich is a qualified and experienced HR professional who is an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development. Educated to a post graduate level, Rich spent the majority of his working life working in shared service centers and contact centers and has a vast knowledge and experience of working on and in helpdesk environments in HR and IT based companies.


Frances Gilbane

Fran is a qualified and experienced trainer with a wealth of customer service experience and knowledge. Educated at Oxford University, she worked in several different industries before settling on a training career. With an instinctive grasp of how to make learning both interesting and informative, she prides herself on helping others realise their potential.