Good customer service on the telephone

Providing Positive Customer Service Over the Phone

by Allen Merritt

Are your team members communicating clearly and effectively?  Are they trained to develop positive outcomes? Consider the following..

Providing exceptional customer service is vital toward building customer loyalty.

More significantly, developing positive presentation skills are essential to ensuring good communication and rapport during each customer interaction, especially over the phone.

Customer service training for call center environments must take a varied approach in teaching such skill sets.

Clear communication over the phone does not compare to a face to face interaction.

The first thing to keep in mind when learning to speak with customers over the phone is that they cannot see you.

Customers are not able to observe your eyes, facial expressions, hand gestures or body language, all of which are considered important to interpersonal communication. With that in mind, how do customers respond to customer service representatives over the phone? The answer depends on the following variables.

1. Verbal presentation

This includes pitch, tone and vocal inflection. Customers either respond in kind or react in accordance with the quality or style of the presentation. Any voice sounding monotone or robotic, uncaring, sarcastic, put off or rushed will send a message to the customer about the quality of service they are about to receive.

2. Acknowledgement

Customers appreciate being acknowledged from the beginning of the call. This includes answering the phone right away with an opening statement, identifying the company, providing our name and offering to help.

3. Actively Listening

Listening is a skill which needs constant attention. I always advise my staff that you listen to hear what the customer is saying, and for any contextual cues on what is not being said. You listen to hear and understand the nature of the call. Listening is not allowing the conversation to go in one ear and out the other. The customer will quickly catch on that you did not hear them, especially when you keep asking the same question repeatedly or ask them to explain again. Look for the meaning in what they are saying by paying attention.

4. Taking Interest

Paying attention to each customer and participating in the conversation is one way to gain customer confidence. Demonstrate a sense of care and get involved with their situation. Simply letting the customer know that there is interest in helping resolve their concern(s) leads to better understanding of the situation and paves the way for a satisfactory resolution. I like to think of this as a team effort. You and the customer are working together toward a positive outcome.

5. Limit Dead Air and Hold time

Presentation includes not remaining silent on the line while looking up information, inputting data or placing the customer on hold. Representatives should limit silences and hold times to a minimum. Always explain what you are doing prior to a silence and/or placing them on hold. Otherwise, customers may think you do not care, are not listening or that you hung up on them. Apologize for their inconvenience and thank them for waiting when you come back into the conversation.

6. Avoid negativity

Many times a customer will call in over a negative experience. Therefore, it is wise not to return a negative for a negative. Avoid profanity, raising your voice, sarcasm, indifference, rudely interrupting the customer or making any statement indicating that you cannot or will not help the customer. More importantly, never create a confrontational situation by blaming the customer and making comments that lead to verbal
finger pointing. Take a deep breath when necessary and think about what to say before you say it. Work diligently to diffuse and reduce
customer frustration.

7. Positivity

Using positive word tracts will almost always generate good customer relations. Turn the situation around and create a successful outcome. Let the customer know that you understand and are happy to help. Apologize for their inconvenience and demonstrate initiative in finding a resolution. Remember to take interest and acknowledge the situation. Smiling helps convey a positive tone even while speaking on the phone.

8. Control

Customer service representatives need to remain calm, cool and collected at all times. Be reminded that the customer’s situation is not about you. Gain control by asking questions, clarifying and verifying the nature of the call. Provide audible cues that you are actively listening and understand what the customer is saying. Another important element of controlling the call is to never assume that what the customer is saying is complete or accurate. In other words, try not to accept what they say at face value without getting more descriptive information. This will help reduce any misunderstandings about what the customer’s needs are.

9. Sense of Urgency

Work quickly and efficiently. Being urgent does not mean rushing through the call or taking short cuts, but it does mean not wasting the customer’s time. Learn how to multitask. Talk and type at the same time, conduct research and ask questions as you go along. Avoid writing information down and then going back later to input it into your database. This will only cause further delays in resolving the situation.

10. Customer Appreciation

Keep in mind that the customer comes first. They are the reason we are here. Demonstrate appreciation by thanking them for their time and business. Exceed their expectations, give them service they did not expect and do not forget to always follow up and follow hrough. Customers expect that we will do exactly what we say we are going to do.

Customers call in for a reason. Think of each call as on opportunity to improve the process, satisfy the customer and provide end-of-line resolution. The aforementioned guidelines go hand in hand and will help customer service representatives facilitate and handle customer concerns over the phone.

Generating successful outcomes with customers over the phone does not have to be difficult, but it does take effort and awareness on how to operate with a sense of care. Be prepared to have general one line phrases that help you communicate well with the customers. Practice keeping conversation on the positive upswing. You can get the customer on your side by letting them know you are on their side.

Remember, it is not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice that makes perfect.


About the Author

Allen Merritt is a member of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and has 12+ years experience in working with customer service and the call center environment. He develops tools, resources and e-curriculum for virtual training programs which aide Customer Service team members in better job performance. For more information email: funny_find@hotmail.com.