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The Customer Success Manager’s Guide to Active Listening

Looking at the foundational or required skills of any CSM, ‘good listener’ is going to be on the list. Customers – especially those working with a SaaS vendor – are known to be extremely vocal about many things, good and bad alike. While good CSMs can listen to customers and get things done, great CSMs understand on a deep level what a customer is actually asking for and work with the customer to move forward.

What is active listening?

According to MindTools, active listening is defined as “the practice of making a conscious effort to not only hear the words that another person is saying but to understand the complete message that is being communicated”. Active listening goes beyond the surface-level words of a question or comment to uncover the deeper meaning.

For customer success managers, implementing active listening techniques can help uncover the root cause of customer frustrations, intent, and goals. For example, if a customer is asking why a specific feature doesn’t perform in a certain way, they’re probably looking for a way to achieve an internal goal. Instead of panicking and reiterating that your tool cannot perform the specific function or escalating a product enhancement request, this would be the perfect time to calmly ask the customer what they are trying to achieve and develop a strategic solution to the issue at hand.

How to become an active listening expert

If you’re like most CSMs in 2021, then your customers have plenty on their minds they want to talk to your team about. Now is the perfect time to implement strategic active listening techniques to help your customers meet their goals – and make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Here are a few listening techniques you can implement with your customers this year:

1. Stop interrupting customers to ask questions. 

This one can be hard for CSMs, especially since we are typically a curious bunch. Instead of launching a herd of rapid-fire questions at a customer when they are trying to explain an issue (“Well did you try this? What were you looking to achieve here?”) listen to the entire explanation first. Let your customer finish their thoughts and then start in on your response.

2. Let them know you’re listening. 

While a customer is talking, make sure you punctuate their clarification statements like “okay” or “sounds good” when you understand. If you do have a question or need more information on a specific point, write it down to ask after they have finished talking.

3. Make sure you understand the situation at hand. 

One great active listening tip here is to repeat back what you just heard to the customer in your own words. Start by saying “so what I understand is…” and then go from there. This is critical to ensure there is no confusion between you and your customer contact.

4. Don’t let things slip through the cracks. 

If a customer brings up a critical issue or question, it is never a good idea to simply say “let me take that back to my team” and then never follow up. Keep your internal team honest and accountable by making it a point to follow up on a regular basis with your customer on where resolution stands.

CSMs have a lot on their plates dealing with customer onboarding, implementation, and ongoing projects. Implementing active listening techniques can help with ‘fire drill’-level escalations, ongoing project maintenance, and general strategic partnership growth. If you can become a better listener your customers will definitely thank you for it.

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