By Nancy Friedman, Keynote Speaker, Customer Service and Communication Expert; President, Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training



Pretend you’re a real estate agent showing a 5-million-dollar home to a nationally known sports star. This sports star and his beautiful actress wife really like the house. If the sale is made, the commission will allow you to buy a new luxury car and pay off a lot of bills.

As the sale is about to be closed, the athlete’s cell phone rings and his smile turns to a frown. He has just been traded and will be leaving town. He relays the message to his wife who breaks down and cries. Question: How old is the real estate person?

Give up? It’s not a trick. You might want to re-read the scenario. It says pretend you are a real estate salesperson. So how old are you?

You might think listening is easy. After all, doesn’t everybody listen?

Well, guess what? They don’t! Listening is not the same as hearing. Think about a commercial for a product you have no interest in; it’s easy to tune that information out, isn’t it?

Hearing is one thing, but listening and mentally absorbing the thoughts is another thing. That’s why we say listening is an art – not a science. While it’s easy to ‘hear’ what the customer says, great customer service begins with great listening skills.


I called a dress shop a few years ago. Told them I wanted to look at some dresses that POP with color. That I was a speaker and needed something that reflected my energy. “No problem,” (Aggggg) he said to me. “I’ll fix you up”

Shortly thereafter I came into the salon and he had 7 to 10 dressed for me – all in black, brown, and deep purple. And colors that would NEVER POP. After I asked him if he ‘heard’ what I had told him, that I was a speaker and wanted something to POP – he said, “I did, but I felt these were more speaker type dresses.”

See? He heard me, but he didn’t LISTEN to me. Point taken.

Here are Telephone Doctor’s six steps to becoming a better listener. And if you think you’re already a pretty good listener, pass this along to someone who could also benefit from improved listening skills.


In school, you’re taught to read, write, do math, and dozens of other topics. I don’t know about you, but in all my schooling, I don’t ever recall having a course on listening. And yet, as we all know, listening is an important, some would say even a crucial skill.

The first step is all about you – your personal commitment to be a better listener.

You need to decide to be a better listener. Make that decision now. You’re going to be a better listener and you’re going to work at it.


Be obviously friendly. By being obviously friendly and welcoming the customer, it immediately sets the stage to let the customer know that you’re interested and actively listening. One effective way to show you’re listening is to tell the customer: “You’ve come to the right place.” And YES, smile.


Your mind processes information much faster than the normal rate of speech and because of that ability, your mind half-listens and does other things too. Your brain tends to solve other problems, to think about what you’re going to say next, other calls you need to make, lunch plans or a host of other activities.

The mind needs to be disciplined to pay full attention to your customer and to listen closely. Even when you try to listen closely, little things can distract you, like a regional accent, or someone who speaks too rapidly, or when the customer’s discussing a topic you don’t find terribly interesting. It’s easy to be distracted by things happening around you. Don’t let that happen. Concentrate.


We’d go a long way toward curing the problem of poor listening habits by not interrupting, by carefully listening and letting the people finish their conversation; hear them out completely. AVOID JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS. That’s an important step in the direction of keeping an open mind and solving the real problem.

This is a good time to talk about the difference between a “fact” and “assumption.”

A statement of fact is normally made after an observation.

An assumption can be made any time — before, during or after an observation (or with no observation at all.)

We want to operate as closely as we can with facts rather than assumptions. And a good listener tries to stay objective and not be judgmental. Try not to let personal impressions modify what you hear. Keep an open mind.


Often, when the person on the phone or in front of you, doesn’t give you feedback, you think you’ve been disconnected or turned off. Remember, with the phone there are no visual signals. Too much silence on the phone, or even in person, gives the impression you’re not listening. In person you can ‘see’ the reactions.

Even when you’re thinking, or looking for something, we need to send feedback – a variety of short replies acknowledging the customer. Give a spoken signal you’re receiving the message. Phrases like, “bear with me while I look that up” or “let’s see what the notes say” are examples. And notice too, I said a variety of replies. Not one word like okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay after everything.


I know this is basic, but it’s so important.

There needs to be paper and a pen or pencil by every phone. Write down key words as people talk – the customer’s name, what they need, any follow-up items. Please don’t take a chance on forgetting when it’s so easy to write things down. Make up your own abbreviation system as a memory jogger. And if your customer gives you lots of extra information, eliminate the unnecessary bits that can be safely discarded. Whether you’re taking a telephone message or helping a customer, repeat and paraphrase the message back to the customer to be sure you’ve got it correct. It lets the customer know you’ve really listened.

Face-to-face: Have pen/paper handy or use your phone to jot notes.

Mistakes happen. We’re only human. However, many mistakes are avoidable.

If we could get 250,000 people to make one less mistake, a mistake that costs their company just $40, that would be a savings of $10 million dollars.

And it’s such a simple thing to do.


Nancy Friedman

Nancy Friedman

Communication and customer service expert Nancy Friedman, The Telephone Doctor, founder and chairman of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, is back in the saddle again. Well, back into live onsite programs, and still offering her ZOOM programs, in a cost saving manner. Whichever you choose, onsite or Zoom, you’ll be glad you did. The reviews are excellent, and audiences have loudly applauded her in either area. Sales, customer service and communication skills are her area of expertise, and she welcomes calls, texts, or emails. You can reach her directly at; through the website at, where you can sign up for her newsletters; or call/text directly at 314-276-1012 central time. Bring it on. Whether you need a keynote speaker or workshop/breakout speaker on customer service and communication skills, you’ll make a great choice.