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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Listening is an Art

While working for a large insurance company within their customer service department, I was given the opportunity to speak with a wide range of people. I took the information and set up claims over the telephone. I spoke with laymen, attorneys, agents, and adjusters. Everyone has an individual speech pattern as well as inflection.

Many of the people I spoke with were not at their emotional “best”. It was not unusual for someone to call in right from the accident site even before any police had arrived on the scene. Under those circumstances, talking them down and taking their information was simply a matter of speaking in a professional voice. Those are the times when the ability to use the “voice” comes in handy. High strung panic can be talked into rational thinking when properly addressed, but it can take an awful toll on the person trying to “talk the cat out of the tree”.

Reminding the faceless person on the other end of the line, that being involved in an accident didn’t automatically make them a bad person. Hearing the fear in someone’s voice that they would either be dropped as an insured or that their rates would now be out of reach for them to carry insurance. Calming, soothing, lowering your voice, speaking slowly. Lowering blood pressures and trying to make them smile, that was my real job. Taking down the information was secondary and necessary.

When a fatality occurred, it was often a close relative calling in the claim. Heartfelt emotions at the surface, call for real empathy not just the professional “voice”. Family members or the actual driver of the other vehicle calling in were the most difficult to handle. I much prefer when the agent has the information and calls it in. For over three years, I took most of those calls that came through our switchboard. Tears on a daily basis made me appreciate the small fender bender!

My favorite calls came from those who were “mastering” the English language. I took calls from nearly every nationality available. I got so I could pin-point their country of origin. This would give us a side bar topic and help ease the call. I did have a few problem inflections such as the woman who grew up in Scotland but had lived in Arkansas for over twenty years. I couldn’t begin to tell where she was from!

Maneuvering through conversations allows the listener to determine if the “b” is being spoken as a “v”, or if the caller omits a letter such as an “r” or an “l” out of their speech pattern. These are basic regional speech patterns that a listener has to be aware of in order to take accurate information. Such as how to correctly spell the caller’s name…..

My favorite of all the people I spoke with? I had just taken a call from an angry young lady who hit a light post in a parking lot and from the attitude she gave me, she felt it was all my fault. (nope, I wasn’t even in the same state as her so I couldn’t have cause her to hit the post!)The next call was a young man who had recently moved to North America from Central America. I asked if he wanted me to get a translator, he declined emphatically. He was so very proud of his English. We determined that we would be patient with one another, while I don’t speak Spanish, I usually get the gist of a conversation…usually. He was reading off his vehicle identification number to me. He would say the numbers in both English and Spanish to make certain I under stood. And the letters, he would give an example; “a” as in apple – “c” as in cat etcetera . Then he said one that threw me for a loop….”y” as in jello. Ok, just try to keep a straight face over that one!


  1. I really enjoyed your post!! Listening sure is an art--and I think a lot of times if we listen to what a person says and doesn't say--we can really get a sense of the type of person they are.

    Like you, I have a job where I deal with people from various parts of the country, as well as other countries. Listening to what is said, along with how it is said can help with language barrier issues.

    Excellent post! Cheers!! Jenn

  2. What a job! Great read and I imagine some more great and heartbreaking memories. Thanks for sharing this one. It's always good to smile during your morning coffee break. C:

  3. Great post! It's tough to understand some people but what gets my panties in a wad is when they get mad at me because I don't speak Spanish in America.

    Joyce (your newest follower)