After the Call Connects: How to Improve Customer Service Over the Phone
Ask most sales and service professionals how they prefer to talk to customers and they'll usually say in-person. For such amicable and persuasive individuals, meeting face-to-face is simply the best way to use their natural talents to serve clients. Unfortunately, we can't always be in the same room as those we want to help. Distance and scheduling clashes often combine to limit contact with customers to other channels, of which the telephone is the next best option. When you're on the phone, important communication factors like tone of voice, inflection, and even emotions can still be conveyed clearly. In terms of both sales and service, talking to someone is vastly superior to emailing, texting, or using an instant messaging service.
With phone calls so established as the best way to help existing clients, the question then turns to how we can improve customer service after the call connects. The suggestions below offer quick and simple ways to resolve issues more amicably and give your buyers a better experience with your brand in the process.
Improve Customer Service Over the Phone
While it might seem elementary to serve someone well over the phone, just as you would when they come to your retail location or office, there are subtle differences that can drag down the quality of your customer service to callers. As pointed out at this year's Somos Toll-Free User Summit, what happens after the call connects is often overlooked as a way to enhance your brand. Despite the move to alternative customer support channels, a study by GetApp showed that the priority for 57.7% of repondents was to speak to a real person who is knowledgable about the product or service. The shift away from mere function to a more fundamental part of the brand experience has started, but there's still a long way to go. Here are several ideas that every business can review and update guidelines or training to deliver improve customer service for callers:
- Ensure calls are answered (and handled) quickly.
- Use a positive tone - smile while you speak.
- Practice plain language and clear speaking.
- Work on authenticity.
- Personalize the call.
- Satisfy and verify.
Let's take a quick look at some of these in the context of modern technology and brand strategy.
Handle Calls Quickly
Start with the simplest, yet also the most frequent customer complaint: don't leave them hanging! While picking up quickly is important, this also means not leaving people on hold for extended periods of time or passing them through several different departments to find someone who can help. Monitor call time and hold time and define acceptable maximums for your target market. Some business sectors are more complex and demand longer calls than others, but there's rarely a reason to leave your customer waiting to have that conversation. How fast someone speaks will also impact the caller's experience. On average, we speak at a rate of roughly 140 words per minute. Use call recordings to assess how your rep's rate of speech matches this average. Talk too slowly and the call takes longer, which will frustrate customers. Talk too quickly, however, and the call feels rushed. This takes on a negative tone, which brings us to the next point...
Positive Tone and Plain Language
Again, some industries require more jargon and technical language than others, but your customer service reps can't lean on that language too heavily. The best service professionals are able to communicate complex ideas or detailed instructions to a wide variety of callers, in the clearest language possible. Use call recording technology to review difficult calls with specific reps and discuss how they could improve explanations. Similarly, adopting a "can-do" tone of voice also helps to smooth out difficult or complicated conversations. What could easily become a frustrating, tense experience for both parties is usually defused when one of you is able to remain upbeat and explore alternative solutions. In a customer service call scenario, you want that person to be your well-trained rep!
Genuine, Personal Care
At the Somos conference, futurist Blake Morgan summed up her desire for businesses to adopt a “more is more” approach to telephone calls, particularly in terms of putting more effort into delivering a satisfying caller experience. Being authentic is an important part of this. Where training scripts and stock answers once dominated contact centers, active listening and treating every customer as a unique service call is becoming a priority. Personalizing the conversation is one aspect of this. Using the caller's name consistently is a familiar approach, but there's more that you can do. For example, your systems and training can encourage small talk about the caller's location and other appropriate demographic information available in your CRM. The customer service team of the future must shift from rigid scripts and sounding somewhat disengaged from the service process, to an active and adaptable approach. This enhances brand loyalty and increases the likelihood that existing customers will not only buy from you again, but also tell friends and family about their experience.
Ask About the Experience
Did the call go as well as - or better than - your customer expected? How can you possibly know for sure if you don't ask them?
It's quite common for service reps to ask if there's anything else they can help with, but we don't often hear much about how well they addressed the original reason for the call. Verifying success directly in this way is important and gives the customer a chance to express any lingering questions or concerns. It's the call equivalent of the retail store assistant asking "did you find everything you were looking for today?" Some callers feel uncomfortable asking otherwise, but the direct question related to their primary reason for being there offers another chance to speak up. Although it adds an extra step to the end of your calls, this approach allows your service team to confirm satisfactory calls and take more time for those that didn't quite make the grade. It empowers callers in either case, as they're encouraged to speak up about their experience and tell you if anything could be improved. Is it time to take another look at how you handle calls and the way that impacts your brand? Use the ideas above to review the key aspects of the call experience and improve customer service over the phone for future callers.
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