As a CSM, you spend a lot of time in customer and product meetings and on sales calls. But, to be a great communicator with everyone from your stakeholders to customers, it all boils down to one skill—active listening. While it sounds straightforward, some CSMs struggle with this skill. If you’re one of them, you’re not alone. That’s why we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to help you break down what active listening means and how to polish your skills on it below.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is the practice of making an effort not to hear what the person is saying but understand and comprehend the message communicated. It helps uncover the problems and root cause of a customer’s irritation and frustrations.
Importance of Active Listening
Customer success managers hear their customers, their complaints, goals, stories, and questions all day. When you have to filter through so much informational daily, it’s easy to revert to passive listening, which is essentially not listening at all. But to improve growth prospects and form long-lasting relationships with your customers, you need to practice active listening.
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13 Handy Tips for CSMs to Polish Their Active Listening Skills
Here are some top tips that CSMs can follow to improve their active listening skills.
Tip #1 Be Curious
The first and foremost tip to improve active listening skills is that customer success managers need to be curious. You need to ask questions that follow-up on a comment that they said. For example, if your customer said that they’re tired of trying to fix this problem without finding a solution that works. You can follow-up with, “You mentioned you were tired of trying to fix this problem, what other solutions have you tried prior to our product?” Not only will being curious improve your active listening skills, but it can help your customers see that you’re interested in helping them which can lead to deeper, more meaningful conversations.
Tip #2 Listen for Both Context and Subtext
To understand the issue well, you need to pay attention to what the speaker is saying (context) as well as the nonverbal communication (subtext). Nonverbal communication means a pause, facial expression, pain, vocal tone, or any factor. These cues are often nonverbal but help you learn and connect deeply with what is being said. Knowing what the customer feels without them communicating is the key to enriching relationships.
Tip #3 Eliminate Distractions and Be Present
Eliminate distractions and focus on what they are saying. You can often notice energy shifts during conversations. CS leaders need to enhance their listening skills to effectively notice these (sometimes subtle) changes.
Tip #4 Have No Agenda
You will only meet your needs if the other person has no bias. The other person needs to feel understood and respected. This means as a CSM, you need to put your agenda aside to ensure your customer n feels understood and respected. This point directly ties into being present. We’re not suggesting that you get on a call with your customer without any game plan, but focus on covering topics, not checking off questions.
Tip #5 Listen to Learn
Listen to learn instead of responding. It’s easy to comment or offer a quick solution. Good listeners need to be silent to understand and think over what they heard. Give an example or a story only if it answers the customer’s query. The best response is often not saying anything to them.
Tip #6 Ask for Feedback
Active listening skills need continuous improvement. If you want to improve, you’ll need to ask for feedback. One way you can do this is by sharing the call with your team and get constructive feedback.
Tip #7 Curb the Urge to Solve the Problem
Kill the urge to problem-solve. Problem-solving is a great skill. However, you need to control your urge to respond to become a better listener. Let the customer finish what they are saying before jumping to conclusions or solving the problem at hand. Be conscious of what you say in a conversation.
Tip #8 Empathize with Them
You need to empathize with your customer and validate their feelings. Putting yourself in their shoes will not only allow you to see the situation from their point-of-view, but it also makes them feel heard.
Tip #9 Create a Culture of Speaking Up
Purposeful listening is a very important aspect for a leader. It’s imperative to create a culture of speaking up, which establishes the need to listen carefully. You need to let customers speak and voice their concerns about any problems.
Tip #10 Adapt to the Moment
A leader with excellent listening skills will understand the customer and how to ‘read’ a conversation. The best way to be adaptable is by not focusing on sticking to a script of questions, regardless of the tone of the conversation. For example, your customer just finished describing their team problems that they want to work on that you can tell is emotionally draining for them to discuss. Instead of giving a half-hearted response and moving on the last question on your list, dig into what’s the problem, how they expect to solve it, etc.
Tip #11 Write Down a Summary
A powerful habit is to write what you heard. An accurate summary can help you document the session and give others (and you) a chance to understand and process it better.
Tip #12 Repeat What Your Customer is Saying
The best way to actively listen is by repeating what the customer says. For example, phrases like “Is this right?” or “Is this what you mean?”, can help you acknowledge the question and demonstrate your attentiveness to the conversation.
Tip #13 Practice Self-Awareness
Awareness of your mind or self-awareness is critical to active listening. Are you thinking about something else? Are you thinking about a response? Are you putting yourself in the customer’s shoes? By being self-aware, you can identify if you’re truly being open-minded in the conversation or if you’re slightly biased and not listening to your customer from a neutral ground.20
Active listening is an important aspect and skill that every customer success manager needs to master. And by implementing some of the tips we mentioned here, you’ll have the resources you need to polish up on your active listening skills to become a better listener.
Shivani is a talented CS manager with the skillsets to elicit, scope and manage end-to-end B2B SaaS project delivery. She has a keen interest in depicting her learnings in customer success by writing resourceful blogs and articles.
Published February 14, 2022, Updated March 02, 2023