In a world of pre-recorded phone service, automated banking, and downloaded technical support, it’s become common to expect a disembodied voice or just impersonal service from the companies we contact. It’s like…speaking to a mummy. So it’s more important than ever for customers to know there’s a friendly human they can speak to for answers and assistance. Customer service representatives give an organization heart, soul, and feelings. They are often the first point of contact for customers, a critical component in how customers judge and determine whether they’ll want to do business with an organization.
When a customer or potential customer calls or visits a company and speaks to a service representative, there is a “Moment of Truth” during which the customer evaluates the company. It may be a subconscious mental rating or, after a few encounters, a deliberate one.
People these days are demanding more personal attention from businesses. In response, companies expect their service representatives to provide the empathy, knowledge and problem-solving abilities that keep customers happy. That’s a lot to expect, but with the following basics, customer support can provide those satisfactory “Moments of Truth” that are beneficial to both the customer and the organization.
Think of the Worst Communicator You Know – Then Do the Opposite
Have you ever felt like you’re being talked at, rather than talked to? It makes you feel like you’re not part of the conversation; that you’re expected to listen, but not respond. When you start spouting technical jargon at a customer, that’s how they feel. You’re not connecting with them, and you’re probably making them even more frustrated. Sure, insurance company policies or seasonal utility rates seem simple to you, but it may be gibberish to the caller. Speak clearly to your customers in words they’ll understand, and question them to make sure they’re following you.
Think of how your voice sounds to the customer, and try not to drone as if you’re bored. If you act interested, you’ll sound interested! Also, asking questions raises your voice inflection and helps you learn what the customer needs.
Know Your Stuff!
In order to assure customers that you can help them, you have to prove that you know the answers to their questions. This not only aids the customer, but it also makes helping the customer easier and quicker for you. If you don’t have the information you need, knowing where to find it is the next best way to provide effective and efficient service. You might use a reference guide, or you might refer the customer to a supervisor or specially-trained staff.
Wow Them With Personalization
A customer interaction can be personal without being overly-familiar. Calling a person by name can make him or her feel more like an individual; although, make sure you pronounce the name correctly! If your customer service is taking place over the phone, see if you can identify information about the caller that you can use in your conversation, such as the topic of a previous call. Or, try to establish common ground by commenting on something you share with the customer, like bad weather, or maybe a current event. Sometimes it’s difficult to be empathetic, but always try to imagine yourself in your customer’s place. You might even discuss similar problems that you’ve had and how you felt.
Don’t Be a Smarty Pants (You May Not Know Everything)
Although it’s good to think ahead and anticipate customers’ questions and reactions, don’t assume you know what they’re thinking or how they’ll respond. Acting on your assumptions without verifying them can lead to misunderstanding. Listen closely, allowing the customer to explain the situation or problem completely, without interruption. If they’ve made a mistake, note it, but don’t interrupt. After the customer has finished, you can politely mention any errors, and ask questions to clarify any confusion.
Become a Professional Complaint-Solver
A service recovery plan should include steps to resolve any customer concerns or problems that can be handled immediately. It should also include steps to get at the underlying cause of the problem—especially if it has happened more than once or to more than one customer.
These are the basic steps to follow:
• ACKNOWLEDGE that an error or problem occurred. This doesn’t mean that you or your company must accept responsibility for every situation or incident. What matters, though, is that your customer has someone to agree that a problem exists and that it will be taken care of.
• APOLOGIZE. This doesn’t mean you’re taking the blame, unless the error is indeed yours or the organization’s. A sincere apology might be as simple as, “I’m sorry it happened.”
• CORRECT THE PROBLEM immediately, if possible. Remember, a major element of customer satisfaction is responsiveness. If your position doesn’t allow you to take immediate corrective action, you should discuss a solution with your supervisor.
• FOLLOW UP. Tell the customer what you intend to do, then follow up, if necessary, to report your action or results and to get feedback from the customer.
It’s Not About You (How to Handle Irritated Customers)
People often vent their wrath on the first person they speak to, no matter what the source of irritation. Telephone service representatives are especially easy targets because they’re a faceless, depersonalized voice. Although you may be offended by the language and tone, it’s important to remember that it’s not aimed at you personally. A calm, easy tone can defuse explosive emotions, especially when your professional attitude is combined with genuine concern.
When people rant and rave, it’s a good idea to let them get it all out. Listen quietly until they’re ready to talk rationally, and document everything they say and how you respond. Repeat what they’ve said, and ask questions to confirm that you understand the problem and to reassure them that you’ve been listening. Ask customers about their expectations in cases where the problem can’t be solved through standard procedures, and use that information when discussing possible solutions. If you have to say “no” to their requests (or demands), politely explain why and try to come up with an alternate solution.
Just Because You’re in Customer Service, Doesn’t Mean You Can’t SELL
A customer calls to complain and you’re expected to sell something to them? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, because you’re in a great position to do the customer a favor. When customers complain because they’re upset about a particular product or service, they’re letting you know a need. They might not be aware of available options that can prevent similar problems in the future.
For example, someone complaining about a high phone bill might not realize that the phone company has other plans that can significantly reduce the cost of long distance calls. Rather than merely explaining the different rates for different times, you can respond to the customer’s needs by offering a better alternative to his or her current phone service.
As service becomes more depersonalized and daily tasks become more complex and technical, customers demand solutions and empathy when they make personal contact with a company. Service representatives are the ones who put a human face on increasingly inhuman organizations. They are also the crucial element that keeps a customer loyal to a service or product when competition gets tough. We all risk becoming mummies without the human touch. Customer service representatives provide that vital link between the needs of the organization and customer satisfaction.
~Excerpted from the Leader’s Guide for the CRM Learning video program, The Call of the Mummy.
Need help in this area? In today’s competitive marketplace, even just one bad experience can cause a customer to take their business to another company. The Call of the Mummy video shows employees how to identify moments of truth that they can use to retain their customers.