This month marks 25 years that I’ve been helping organisations Australia-wide to redefine their customer service experience with a focus on telephone skills. In that time, as you can imagine, I have seen a huge transformation in the way organisations are serving their customers.
Customer service has become a critical part of the overall brand image and reputation. With the rise of social media and online reviews, customers have more power than ever to share their experiences and influence others.
And with the rapid evolution of technology and the and the shifting needs and preferences of customers, organisations have had to adapt and evolve. Customers today expect to be able to make contact through multiple channels, including phone, email, chat, social media, and SMS. To meet these expectations, you need to provide seamless support across all channels and ensure that customer information and interactions are professional and consistent.
As much as technology has helped your customers to communicate with you, it has not and never will replace good old-fashioned phone skills. For those who are not tech savvy, or when technology goes awry, customers still rely on being able to talk to someone within an acceptable timeframe. Some customers just simply prefer to talk on the phone, due to the instant response limitations of chat and email.
One thing that has become glaringly obvious is that many of the people at the frontline of businesses do not possess the interpersonal skills that it takes to answer an enquiry professionally, defuse customer dissatisfaction or resolve a complaint, and they can even add fuel to the fire with their poor phone manner, listening, and problem-solving skills.
So in this article I thought I’d share seven of the most critical telephone techniques that will never go out of style, so you can brush up on your skills and make sure you’re one step ahead. These techniques are also very applicable when you’re serving a customer face to face and can be adapted to the situation.
1. Greet your customer with a smile and an upbeat and helpful tone of voice, giving your company name and your name. This is the first impression your caller will receive and will set the tone of the call. If the caller is dissatisfied, a positive first impression will go a long way towards defusing their dissatisfaction, making it easier for you to resolve the issue. If you are dealing face to face, a smile, eye contact, positive body language and a cheery greeting will all go a long way in building customer confidence in your abilities.
2. Once your caller has explained their issue, offer a reassuring ‘I’ and ‘We’ statement such as ‘Sure, I can help you with that’. If the caller is unhappy, start with an empathetic statement in an authentic tone of voice, such as ‘I’m sorry to hear that, let’s see what we can do to resolve this for you.’ Avoid ‘You’ statements as they can sound direct and confronting.
3. If you need to place them on hold during the call because you’re unsure of the answer and need to check information, confidently ask their permission and give the expected hold time. e.g. ‘Do you mind waiting for a couple of minutes while I find out the answer for you?’ Be mindful of not keeping them on hold for too long and if it is likely to be an extended hold, offer to call them back. When returning to the call, thank them for waiting.
4. When answering a warm transferred call (that has been announced to you), acknowledge their name and reason for their call. This will save irritating your caller by having to repeat themselves and feeling irritated and undervalued in having to do so.
5. Ask questions to find out more information, so you can find a resolution specific to that customer’s needs. Listen to the answers and take notes of the key points. Focus on their call and avoid distractions to show that you are listening, so the caller does not have to repeat information they’ve already given. Listening and problem solving are very valuable skills.
6. Positively frame your language, avoiding words and phrases such as Unfortunately, We can’t guarantee, No problem, We don’t. To achieve the most positive outcome, focus on what you ‘can do’ not what you ‘can’t do’.
7. At the end of a call thank the caller, and if you have been able to help, ask if there’s anything else you can do for them. If you haven’t been able to resolve the issue yet, sum up your plan of action and offer a timeframe for that action to take place to give your caller some certainty of when a resolution will occur. Never leave a customer hanging. Keep them updated with progress reports.
To have a good chance at success, organisations must prioritise customer service as a core part of their brand strategy and invest in training and development programs to ensure that employees are equipped to provide exceptional customer experiences. These days, with less people who are competent in interpersonal skills, it’s not good enough to leave it to chance anymore.