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The Call Center Training Program
The Training Source, Los Rios Community College District (LRCCD),
& The Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA)

Listening Skills | Customer Expectations

 Training Module’s Purpose:

Good customer service hinges on hearing the customer’s spoken and unspoken needs and desires. This module is intended to build the student’s listening skills.


Learning Objectives:

At the end of this module, students will be able to:


    • Explain how listening is a skill that can be developed
    • Identify at least four benefits of listening
    • Recognize internal and external barriers to listening and know what to do to overcome them
    • Demonstrate active listening skills
    • Know how and when to ask open-ended or close-ended questions


What is Listening?


There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a passive process. We will naturally hear sounds within human hearing range unless there is some hearing impairment. Listening, however, is an active process. When listening, we direct attention to the act of hearing. Listening involves an intention both to hear and to understand what is heard. Hearing may be natural, but listening is a skill.

The skill of listening can be developed when you know what to do and practice specific behaviors. The skill of listening requires:

A state of mind

Your mind must be free of other distractions so that you can truly focus in on what you are hearing.


An intention to listen

You must have the desire to hear and understand what the other person is saying.


A method of tracking

You must be able to track what the person is saying and how it all fits together.


A process of clarifying or verifying

When appropriate, you must be able to verify that you are getting the person’s message correctly and clarify any confusion or missing information.


Research indicates that we spend most of our communication time listening, but that we have the least training in this crucial area of effective communication.

Mode of Communication

Formal Years of Training

Percentage of Time Used


12 years



6-8 years



1-2 years



0-1/2 years




Barriers to Effective Listening

The most powerful action you can take to improve your listening skills is to eliminate or overcome the common barriers to effective listening. Some barriers to effective listening are internal. They occur inside of you. Some barriers are external and occur in the surroundings around you.

Internal Barriers

Barriers that occur inside of you

External Barriers

Barriers that occur in your surroundings












What can you do to overcome the internal barriers?

What can you do to reduce or eliminate the external barriers?


Are You Listening?

How do you know when someone is really listening to you? Although there are some common listening behaviors, you will have your own perceptual filters to determine when someone is really listening to you. Take a moment and think of a time when you felt that someone really listened to you. Use this time to answer the following questions:

Non-Verbal Cues

What non-verbal cues indicated that the person was listening to you? Be as specific as possible.


Verbal Cues

What verbal cues indicated that the person was listening to you? Be as specific as possible.



How do you feel when you sense or notice that someone is not listening to you? How do you respond (stop talking, change the subject, talk louder, etc)? Does your response differ when in a group versus one-on-one?


Benefits of Listening


  • Listening is a powerful form of acknowledgement

Listening is a way of saying, "You are important."

  • Listening creates acceptance

Listening conveys the message that "I am not judging you."

  • Listening is the foundation of understanding

Listening provides a basis for understanding another person because it encourages the listener to let go of assumptions and find the meaning the talker is trying to convey.

  • Listening encourages openness

Listening demonstrates interest in both the talker and what the talker says. The talker is more likely to share thoughts and feelings, give valid information, and answer relevant questions.

  • Listening builds stronger relationships

Listening creates a desire to cooperate among people because they feel acknowledged, accepted, and understood.

  • Listening promotes being heard

People will be more willing to listen to you if you listen to them. As Steven Covey aptly states it, "Seek first to understand, then be understood."

  • Listening leads to learning

Listening requires openness to other opinions and ideas, which often encourage personal growth and learning. For most of human history, story telling and oral traditions has been the primary method for teaching and learning.

  • Listening reduces stress and tension

Inefficient listening causes a great deal of everyday stress. Listening poorly results in misunderstanding and confusion because we miss vital information. Listening minimizes these errors in our communication and eliminates subsequent stress.

  • Listening is pleasurable

You can find great pleasure in the act of listening because of the profound connection it creates with another person.


Active Listening

People who are considered excellent listeners typically use the skill of "active listening."

    • Active listening requires a definite intention to listen.
    • Active listening requires that you focus on the speaker and limit or eliminate internal and external distractions.
    • Active listening includes all of the appropriate non-verbal and verbal cues that indicate you are listening.
    • Active listening provides a feedback loop that ensures you are getting better and more accurate information.
    • Active listening reduces misunderstandings and encourages open communication.


The Skill of Active Listening

The goal of active listening is to go beyond listening to understanding. People have a strong desire to be understood. Words are simply a vehicle to convey a meaning. Active listening allows you to make sure that you hear the words and that you understand the meaning behind the words.

All too often, we simply assume that we understand what someone means by what he or she says. We make an educated guess about his or her meaning and then act as if that guess is the truth. This is fine when we guess correctly, but can be disastrous when we guess wrong. This results in a lot of miscommunication. Active listening encourages you to feedback what you hear in order to check for accuracy and to keep you on track with the person’s meaning. You do this by paraphrasing back to the speaker what you heard him or her say, which gives the speaker a chance to affirm or correct your understanding.



When to Use Active Listening

Active listening is a valuable skill. But, like all skills, it works best in certain situations. A hammer works great for driving in nails but you don’t use a hammer to kill a fly or a flyswatter to drive in a nail. What times or situations would be appropriate to use active listening?


How to set it up. Active listening may seem odd unless it is introduced properly. What might you say to make the speaker more receptive to active listening?


When not to use active listening. There are times when it is inappropriate to use active listening. List some times when active listening will put a damper on the conversation.


Asking Questions

As a customer service representative, you will run into situations when you will need to gather more information in order to understand another person and provide the desired service. You will need to ask questions in order to do so. Many times, your question will be appropriate given the caller’s request and the situation. At other times, you may need to explain the reason for the question.

Here are some guidelines:

1. Keep questions simple and to the point

A man calls explaining that his daughter has gotten her driver’s license and he wants to add her name onto his auto insurance policy. You are ready to enter her name into the system, but he hasn’t given you her name yet.


2. Ask politely

Adding please or framing the question softly will make the customer more comfortable responding than asking it bluntly. This means that you soften the question by saying "May I…" or "Could I…" For example, you might ask: "May I have your daughter’s name, please?"


3. Provide a rationale for any question that is not obvious

Many people value their privacy or may even be suspicious when you ask them for information. If the question you are asking is not obvious, tell them why you need the information. This should be a brief one- or two-sentence explanation.

"For security purposes, we will need your daughter’s social security number. We can then verify that it is her should she call us about the policy."


Types of Questions

1. Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with "yes, "no," or a simple fact (such as a date). An open-ended question is used to get the customer talking. "O.K Mr. Jones, what happens when you turn the machine on?"

Open-ended questions "open up" the conversation.

Open-ended questions begin with:





What…? (As in what is the problem?)



2. Closed-ended questions

Closed-ended questions are asked to get either a yes/no answer or a very specific piece of information, such as a date. Closed-ended questions include status questions, such as the customer’s name, phone number, serial number, etc.

Closed-ended questions "close in" on a fact.

Closed-ended questions begin with:








What…? (As in what is your address?)


Quiz Questions


List three barriers to listening and identify whether the barrier is internal or external.




List four benefits of listening.






What is active listening?


What is an open-ended question? Give an example.


What is a closed-ended question? Give an example.


Listening Actively

Get into groups of three for the following exercises. One person is the speaker, one the listener, and one is an observer. Make notes about how the exercise affected you as speaker and as listener. As observer, notice what transpires between the speaker and the listener.


The speaker finishes the first sentence below. The listener sits in an attentive posture. As listener, nod your head and acknowledge the speaker verbally when appropriate. As speaker, limit your response to two to three sentences.

When the speaker is finished, the listener briefly restates what the speaker said using an introductory phrase such as, "What I hear you saying is…" or As I understand it, you…" Finish by asking, "Is that right?"

Rotate only if the speaker confirms the accuracy of the listener’s restatement. If not, have the speaker clarify further and have the listener paraphrase again. Continue until the listener gets confirmation. Rotate so that each person has a chance to be speaker or listener. The second speaker finishes the second sentence and the third speaker finishes the third sentence.


1. If I could change one thing about myself, I would…

2. I admire people who can…

3. I would love to have the chance to…


Take time to talk about the exercise after each round. The observer can give feedback to the listener about his or her attentive posture and paraphrasing.


Here are some alternative stem sentences:

What I like least about my job is…

I get stressed out when…

One thing that really frustrates me is…

My strongest points are…

When I am criticized, I usually…

The emotion I find most difficult to handle is…

Program InformationCustomer Service CallsData Entry CallsLive CallsExercises

Virtual Call Center Simulator

A joint project of the Training Source, Los Rios Community College District, and the Sacramento Employment & Training Agency (SETA). Funded in part by Workplace Learning Resource Center, through grants from the Chancellors Office, The California Community College System.