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Active Listening Techniques for Customer Success Managers - Sorry What Did You Say?

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Today, there are a multitude of distractions I face as a Customer Success Manager. As I prepare for a meeting, I have to remind myself to silence Slack, Gmail, my phone and all the tools and gadgets that keep our daily lives running. And this list doesn’t even include the distractions in my house!

As we engage on a call with our clients, teammates or our managers, how can we be present and actively listening? Your undivided attention is even more important than you think. It gives your audience confidence that you understand the situation, can address the issue and achieve their desired outcome. This helps build trust with your audience and strengthens the relationship.

Since we agree that active listening is important, then the more important question is, how can we incorporate this into our daily lives?

Let’s discuss some active listening techniques to use as a Customer Success Manager to bring this tactic to the front and center of your conversations.

Verbal and non-verbal communication

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Did you know that 93% of communication is non-verbal? That staggering statistic is from an experiment conducted by Albert Mehrabian, a Psychologist in the 1960s who concluded that body language (55%) and tone (38%) account for overall non verbal communication.* It lends to the age old saying of, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” I’m not sure who said that, but I’m betting that person’s delivery left an impression.

It means that your body language and tone make an impression even if you don’t realize it. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to pay attention to how you are expressing yourself. If you have a meeting with a stakeholder, consider turning your camera on to ensure that you make a good impression and that your message resonates with your audience.

Here are some non-verbal cues to consider:

  • Body language

  • Facial expressions

  • Posture

  • Gestures

  • Eye contact

  • Nodding

  • Leaning in to listen

  • Tone of voice

  • Smiling

All of the above will help you engage your audience and create a memorable experience. As Maya Angelou famously said,

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Active Listening Techniques to Apply as a Customer Success Manager

Over the years, I’ve used some techniques that have helped me stay engaged with my audience and make them feel heard. The two strategies that I like to use are Mirroring and Labeling, which are mentioned in Chris Voss’ book and Masterclass, The Art of Negotiation based on techniques from the book. If you discover that you’re already using these techniques - awesome! Now, you have a name to identify these strategies. If not, listen closely because they are going to transform your conversations.

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When using Mirroring in a conversation, the goal is to repeat back the 2-3 words in the last sentence used by the person you’re speaking with. For example, we’ll use this in the following conversation:

Chris: I’m having a hard time reading the report.

You: You’re having a hard time reading the report?

Chris: Yes, it won’t download in the correct format.

While you can continue in this question format throughout, you should use this sparingly and more so in a curious tone to really come across as if you are interested in learning more about the issue or topic that the individual just shared. When integrated into any conversation, it seamlessly helps provide more context and makes the client feel understood.


Labeling is a strategy that identifies the emotion and states it out loud. It’s rooted in behavioral science where the simple act of identifying what you’re feeling helps to calm you down. It can be used in high stress situations. While Chris Voss used it in his time as a hostage negotiator, you might be familiar with moms using it with their toddlers to help control their emotions. Those are definitely two high stress situations!

The three steps to Labeling according to Voss is detecting emotional states of individuals, Labeling the emotional state, saying it out loud, and finally staying silent and letting the other individual process the label. To note, Labeling can be used seamlessly in any situation or conversation, not just high stress. I’ll demonstrate in the following conversation with Chris:

Chris: Your Support team never got back to me!

You: It sounds like our Support is not being responsive.

Chris: Yes, and it happens all the time!

You: It also sounds like we’re not delivering on expectations creating a subpar experience.

Chris: Exactly!

While I didn’t label his emotion as unhappy or upset, I reframed the situation, which is also labeling. You are validating how the client is feeling. Now, if you go one step further, you can add on tactical empathy as Voss likes to call it where you state:

“I can imagine your frustration of not getting the right answers when you need them. I know your team is counting on you to launch this project on time.”

You understand the other person’s perspective and can share their pain. Well, now you just connected with the other person and made them feel understood. It also de-escalated the situation. The whole goal with active listening is to make your client feel heard and with these techniques you can walk away knowing you achieved that goal.

Discovery & Follow Up

notepad on desk with pen

It’s not only distractions, but sometimes you may not know the answer to a question. For this reason, it’s important to come to the call with an agenda prepared and researching the given topic beforehand. However, if you run into this situation, remember to pause and think. You can also ask follow up or discovery questions to get more clarity. Otherwise, it's absolutely OK to not have the answer and get back to the other person in a follow up. Always, be sure to take meeting notes during the call so you can make your job easier on action items and follow ups from the call. The SuccessHacker session CSM Mastermind: Utilizing Active Listening to Improve Outcomes does a great job of sharing these tips to help you navigate client meetings like a pro.

*Resource Psychology Today


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