Are You Auto-filling Instead of Listening? Guest post By David Lee

Guest post By David Lee

I just had a funny experience that is a great metaphor for what unfortunately happens far too often in customer service interactions, not to mention personal relationships.

It’s the Auto-fill.

Here’s what happened…

I had emailed a former client who I really like to say “Hi” and catch up. In my email, I asked him what he was doing in the fitness realm, because we had talked about that in the past and because I’m an extreme fitness nut (P90X, kettlebells, Convict Conditioning, etc.)

In his email back, which contained a few brief remarks about what he was up to, was this line:

Yes, i try to stay fit w/barefoot weights, running, and cycling.

My antennae went up when I saw the “w/barefoot” part because working out at home in bare feet has totally transformed my foot and knee problems. Prior to doing that, I couldn’t wear flip flops because my arches would hurt as would my left knee. I had to use orthotics in all my footwear. But that’s all changed.

Anyway…this isn’t meant as a fitness or health advice article…that was just a little context for why I was intrigued by his interest in doing weight-lifting barefoot.

When we talked a few days later, I asked him to tell me about the barefooted weightlifting.


He had no idea what I was talking about.

I mentioned what he said in his email and he laughed.

He explained how he had texted his sister recently that he would come over “w/barefoot”…as in the brand of wine, and now when he types in “w/” it assumes that is what coming next. So, it “saves him the effort” of typing it himself.

It was so perfectly ironic and quirky, I couldn’t but find it both amusing and intriguing.

Besides the irony of “timesavers” causing more work, an irony he noted, I knew there had to be some other “moral to the story” to this quirky little scenario.

It hit me the next morning…

Isn’t this a perfect metaphor for how often we don’t listen to what people are saying if we think we know what they’re talking about?

Think of times someone started to tell you about a problem—whether in a personal or professional context—and you interrupted them to “save them the trouble” of having to finish their story, because you “knew” where they were going with their story.

Think of times you “just knew” where they were going, so you stopped listening and started to silently “Autofill” the rest. Then when they finished, you gave them advice which was off base because you didn’t understand what they said. You didn’t understand because you weren’t listening to them…you were ing.

If they didn’t express frustration or annoyance overtly, you can probably bet they felt it, just as you and I do when others don’t listen but instead Autofill.

This is especially common—and unfortunate—in customer service situations where the service professional assumes—because they’ve “heard it all before”—that they know what the person is going to say after the first few words are uttered. Rather than being present for what the customer was saying, their brain Auto-fills the rest, based on what they’ve heard in previous conversations.

Because their brain is busy recalling what content to supply for the Auto-fill  process, they  don’t actually hear the details that would have made a difference in their ability to define and solve the problem.

They compound the damage when they interrupt and whip into problem-solving mode. Not only does their interrupting annoy the customer, but their off-base questions and suggested solutions annoys the customer because they clearly signal that the customer service rep wasn’t listening.

Furthermore, because ing results in an off-base answer, the customer immediately starts to lose trust in the customer service professional. They lose trust in the person’s ability to help. Since the customer service person clearly doesn’t listen and clearly doesn’t understand, how can they be trusted in the future to provide intelligent advice?

So, what’s the solution to autofilling?


Being present.

Focusing 100% on what the person is saying.

About the Author: David Lee is the founder of and . He works with businesses interested in optimizing employee performance and the customer experience they deliver. His work focuses on helping managers cultivate a deeper understanding of human nature and a heightened sense of attentiveness to each Moment of Truth that shapes both the employee and the customer experience. He can be reached at

is Specialist in Customer Success and chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her @StefWalkMe