The omni-channel strategy for customer service part 2: Phone calls

At Heerd, we’re passionate about customer service, and we believe that in order to properly offer customer satisfaction, you need to incorporate all channels of customer service contact in your strategy. You might remember we talked about customer service emails in our last entry, including how to address your customers without sounding too discouraging or condescending. With e-mails, you cannot use tone or intonation to express yourself, so the vocabulary you use pulls double duty as conveying information and establishing a tone. If you are on the phone, however, those rules are completely swapped. How you talk to the customer becomes just as — if not more — important than what you say.

We’ve all heard nightmare stories about customer service phone calls, like the story of a man from Merthyr Tydfil calling ASDA customer service to complain about a pizza with no toppings, only to realise halfway through the conversation that he’d opened the box upside-down. But customer service agents can’t always have the convenience of the high ground, and how you or your staff act on the phone will have a serious impact on customer retention.

Research on customer attitudes to telephone customer service varies from 12% of customers preferring phone calls to 80%, but either number is more than enough to justify taking telephone customer service as seriously as every other avenue of communication. That’s why we’re offering our top five tips for excellent telephone customer service.

1. Pay attention to emotions

If you were to walk up to someone and say hello, but they don’t respond, you would develop a negative emotional reaction. The side of your brain that deals with emotions is now in charge and that side of the brain is far less rational. Ignoring an emotional prompt can exacerbate negative feelings.

In a customer service scenario, when a customer is already frustrated, you can’t ignore it and expect a rational response. You need to acknowledge that anger or frustration rather than gloss over it. The same goes for compliments and any other emotive discourse. If you ignore the customer’s emotions you will be considered to have an ‘attitude problem’, and this can be what drives your customers to your competition, or what makes them take to social media to voice their outrage.

Phrases like, “I can understand how frustrating that must be” or similar will display empathy while also showing the customer that you’re listening to their problems. If a caller feels like you’re not only listening to them, but also that you appreciate and agree that their problem is difficult, you can create a comradeship, and that’s one route to a satisfied customer.

2. Know telephone etiquette

No matter how sure you are that you understand telephone etiquette, refreshing you and your staff on professional telephone mannerism is essential in a call centre. Unsurprisingly, customers will lose confidence in you if you start using words like ‘dude’, or ‘man’. Speaking in a clear, enunciated tone will increase confidence in your professionalism. Just be careful that you’re not also speaking with complex vocabulary or business jargon, or you’ll give off the impression the customer is intellectually inferior.

There are many small elements to phone etiquette — too many to list here! Essential rules include:

  • Always answer the phone with your name, and a smile (this will have a positive effect on your intonation!)
  • Ignore any interruptions around you
  • Before placing customers on hold, ask their permission and thank them
  • Don’t let the phone ring more than three times
  • Don’t give the impression you are rushed

3. The customer is always right!

Yes, you and I both know the customer is always right. But the customer doesn’t know that you know it. If you listen to the customer service conversation above again and observe the customer service rep, you’ll hear him questioning the customer’s logic. “Obviously, I can’t send you out a pizza, can I?” said the ASDA rep. Phrases like ‘obviously’ and ‘can I?’ are passive aggressive and serve only to wear the customer’s patience down.

Now compare that to this customer service call from the US (warning: strong language!) — despite the tirade of abuse, the rep kept his cool avoiding retaliation or a tone that could escalate the situation. In this example, the customer refused to be put on hold but also demanded to be transferred to another employee (an act that requires being put on hold). Rather than point out the customer is wrong and making no sense, the rep suggests they pick their preferred option. It’s not enough to agree with the customer when they are right, you must talk to them as if they are right, even when the conversation is proving otherwise.

Or worse, it could be that your customer actually is correct, that you are incorrect and that the conversation is being recorded. Take this infamous Verizon call, for instance: a man appeals to customer service reps (including one supervisor) to realise the difference between 0.002 cents and 0.002 dollars.

4. Use your customer’s name

Keeping the conversation personalised will make the customer feel valued, so when you talk to them, use their name. Don’t be afraid to ask them how to pronounce their name, and perhaps write it down (phonetically, if necessary) at the start of the call so you can remember it.

Don’t overuse their name, however. This can make people feel a little uncomfortable like they’re being interrogated!

5. Leave the customer satisfied

How the customer feels at the end of the call is the most important part of all. It’s that emotion they have when they tell people about you. It could be the difference between losing a customer and their peers, and generating a brand advocate. The goal of a customer service representative is to get to the end point in the conversation only when you have satisfied the customer’s purpose for calling.

Lastly, make sure you end the call in a polite and friendly manner. Let them know you appreciate their call and give the impression that you enjoyed talking with them. Wish them a nice day, or if there’s anything else you can help with and be sincere about it. A successful ending to a phone call could leave a customer contented even if they began the conversation irate, and this, in turn, translates into customer retention.

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