Excellent Customer Service on the Phone – PART III-B

As promised, we are back for today to give readers especially my target audience, the call center agents details regarding segment B of the third part of my three-part blog series about Excellent Customer Service on the Phone.  This time, we are going to talk about Providing a Helluva Customer Care Experience.

When agents successfully answer a caller’s question, solve his problem, address his concern, fix his issue, or provide what he expects to get from the call; they are able to do their job as expected.  However, when they even go beyond what is expected to give the customer a memorable customer care experience, the person appreciates and remembers the interaction and of course, the agent they spoke with even more.  That is what going the extra mile or going above and beyond the call of duty means in essence.

The question though is, how does one provide a helluva customer care experience?

STAGE VII:  PROVIDING A HELLUVA CUSTOMER CARE EXPERIENCE

The number one ingredient in a recipe of a perfectly-handled call is establishing a connection between the agent and his customer.  When there is a connection, not only do the customer and the representative see eye to eye, they also feel very at ease with each other as if they are just talking to a friend.  This can be accomplished by applying the following tips:

  • Open the call smiling.  Customers feel good when they are greeted on the line by a voice that sounds very willing to help and that is full of pep.  They feel like they made it with a trustworthy help who is not only accommodating but knows what he is doing and loves what he is doing as well. It ushers in a feeling of confidence towards the person and an aura of security and comfort.
  • Exchange pleasantries.  Exchanging pleasantries is not only a mutual respect between the customer and the representative but a sign of professionalism on the part of the agent as well. This is highly-encouraged so that the agent is able to warm up to the customer who then puts himself at ease and learns to cooperate smoothly with the agent. Asking “how are you doing today?” and waiting on a response from the customer are a good start to a having an amiable conversation and it absolutely sets a positive mood for both the customer and the agent.
  • Ask for the customer’s name preference.  Asking for how the customer prefers to be addressed all throughout the conversation is a way of personalizing the customer care experience.  This is important because there are customers who do not want to be called by their first names.  Some would like to be addressed by their title (like Dr., Atty., Engr. etc.) together with their family name as they take too much pride in their profession and their last name. There are even customers who are neither called by their respective first names or last names.  Instead, they prefer to be called by their nicknames or pet names.  So, to play it safe, it is highly recommended to ask them, especially American customers, how they want to be addressed.  One reminder though.  When an agent starts calling his customer by the preferred name, he must stick to it all throughout the call.  It is not good when he is not consistent and alternates between the customer’s desired name and his first or last name.  Consistency is a must.
  • Verbalize nods thru listener feedback.  Listener feedback refers to agent responses that indicate listening, acknowledgement, knowledge, and comprehension.  These are words like “I see…”, “I understand…”, “I’m with you…”, or something as short as “okay”.  When a representative listens, he may want to let the customer know he is understanding or he is on the same page by saying any of these.  Verbalizing nods is important because the agent cannot just nod his head to express his understanding or shake his head to show disapproval or disagreement.  The customer will not know that because he cannot see the agent on the phone (unless it is Skype technology but it is not).  So, listener feedback or verbal cues are really important.
  • Apply mirroring.  Mirroring is defined as matching the customer’s current state of mind or disposition by changing one’s intonation to be in tune with theirs.  When the customer is sad, the agent may need to sound empathizing and feeling sorry. When the customer is happy, the agent may concur with that by sounding bubbly and enthusiastic himself.  The only exception though is when the customer is mad.  By all means, the agent cannot sound mad or aggressive himself.  It will just fan the flame that the customer has already ignited.  What he can just do instead is to sound apologetic but mix it up with a sound of assertiveness.  This is how an agent mirrors the customer’s anger.  Mirroring is certainly of importance because the customer gets to gauge the representative’s sincerity in helping him and how involved the latter is in arriving at an appreciable resolution for the former’s reason for calling.
  • Empathize if the situation calls for it.   It clearly says here that empathizing is not done all the time.  There are customer situations for which instead of empathizing, the customer appreciates more if the agent would just proceed to what he should do or the questions he must ask.  Honestly, there are customers who get irritated by an agent who keeps on saying sorry when he can just say it once and just do what he has to do.  So, my piece of advice is for the agent to analyze the situation well and to decide if it merits empathizing or not.
  • Use positive or power words.  As discussed on the previous articles, positive words refer to words that stay away or refrain from saying naturally-negative words and sticking to words that relay optimism.  Power words, on the other hand, are those words that when pronounced either make the customer attentive, assured, encouraged, motivated, relaxed, and/or perked up.  Both of these variety of wordings over the phone serve to enhance not only the agents’ vocabulary and manner of speaking but the whole conversation and the customer’s experience as well.
  • Initiate small talk.  Striking up a good conversation is helpful in more ways than one.  Aside from helping both the agent and the customer loosen up a bit by talking about something else, it additionally helps the agent reach out to the caller more and make the whole experience more of a friendly conversation than a business transaction.  Furthermore, a small talk is very helpful when avoiding placing the customer on hold.  Instead of making the customer wait on hold, the agent can just make a small talk provided that he can make it short and quick plus he can manage and control it.
  • Use safe humor.  A representative who has a good sense of humor does it better.  Safe humor, although a bit critical and dangerous if one does not know which is safe or not, can be incorporated in one’s call handling and communication strategies.  Just like initiating small talk and using power/positive words, making use of safe humor also enhances the customer’s entire experience on the phone, the quality of the conversation, and the convivial ambiance between him and the agent.  The agent just has to make sure that he does not crack anything that is below the belt or unfamiliar to the customer. At times, a communication barrier in terms of where the agent is from and what the customer’s nationality is plays a great deal.  What this means is a Filipino’s local joke may not mean anything at all to a native American who cannot relate to it and vice versa.  Therefore, neither one finds the other person’s joke funny.  In this regard, the agent just has to make sure his customer will get his joke or better yet, he may want to skip it all together if he is not comfortable with it.
  • Flatter the customer.  Flattering a customer over the phone is exactly like doing the same to a customer in person, face to face.  When a customer wears a nice dress, we usually say, “You look great in that outfit.” Then, the customer feels great.  When a customer follows our instructions to the letter or just like how we want it, we tell him, “Good job.”  Then, the customer feels proud of himself.  This is precisely the concept behind doing the same to a similar customer over the phone.  They feel good when we commend them for being able to follow our instructions well or when we say something good about them or what they say.  If agents would just utilize this style or technique the right way advantageously,  each of the customers they get to help would always have a great time.

So, there you have it.  I say that when an agent applies all of these above, building rapport with customers would just be a no-brainer.  Customers would appreciate the agent more if he does not sound very stiff and formal and if he talks and acts as a human being and make a cordial attachment with them.

Next, we will talk about Excellent Call Handling Skills.  What must we do to handle the flow of our conversation with our customer effectively without sacrificing quality and without lengthening the call and failing our handling time requirements?

What can be called as Excellent Call Handling Skills?

  1. When one can control the call effectively to adhere to the AHT and manage call volumes;
  2. When one can resolve a call on first contact and minimize callbacks;
  3. When one can retain even irate or upset customers;
  4. When one can deal with very difficult customers and challenging situations;
  5. When one can resolve a customer’s concern without jeopardizing call quality.

Okay.  Now that we know what those excellent call handling skills are, let us now touch upon the several tips agents can bank on when assisting their customers.

  1. Agents should keep track of their time and where they already are in the call flow.  It is definitely a big help for agents to have a portable timer with them or their own IP deskphones to have a timer on its Caller ID display.  There are also online or web-based call timers that they can pull up from some websites.  These timers help them monitor how long they have been on the line with the customers.  However, timing one’s call has its pros and cons too.  One advantage would be being alerted knowing how long one has already been talking to the customer for.  Being alerted signals the agent to think about how to solve the customer’s problem faster or to come up with shortcuts that are as good, if not better, than the long way of doing the same thing.  The downside though would be the quality of the conversation with the customer might be jeopardized because the careless agent ends up shortening the call to a fault and forgets to build rapport and offer the customer an excellent customer care.  So, agents should bear in mind that timing their call is not just for making sure that they always pass their AHT requirement.  More than the handling time, It is about being efficient in what they do – meaning helping the customer with the least time, resources and effort.
  2. Deliver information slowly and clearly.  Some agents think that speaking fast helps them comply with their AHT requirement more often without knowing they are setting aside the quality of service their customers deserve to get from them.  They are wrong.  The truth is it only spells disaster.  When an agent speaks fast, he has the tendency to eat, mispronounce or jumble his words.  This only renders the customer clueless about what was said or misinterpreting the agent.  Ergo, the call just gets longer or messed up because the agent would have to repeat his words again or explain himself again.  The customer’s precious time, for his part, is just wasted listening to the agent and understanding what he is saying all over again. So, agents must take their time and say what they have to say slowly, clearly and effectively.  Of course, without sounding like a drug-overdosed person.
  3. Listen actively.  This is easier said and suggested than done, actually.  Active listening is the highest and the best form or level of listening in which listening is done by absorbing and processing both the customer’s message or feedback and his emotions or feeling.  In other words, it is having a full grasp of the customer concern and putting oneself in his shoes too.  When an agent listens to both his customer’s message and heart at the same time, he resolves the issue at hand in impressive fashion and he also gets a new friend in the customer who will most surely keep his subscription much longer because he is very satisfied with customer service who has very courteous and professional employees.
  4. Follow the process without sounding robotic.  There are some agents who forget that they are human beings the moment they talk about company policies and procedures or the moment they must strictly abide by the processes mandated by the company they are serving when they assist their customers.  The result is, they sound robotic or stiff and eventually disregard personalizing the call.  There is always a way not to sound too formal or scripted even when such things above are being talked about.  All the agent needs to do is to be conversational and to think of his customer as a friend whom he needs to explain such details to with professionalism.
  5. Understand the problem first.  Some agents end up assuming they already know what the customer’s concern is and jumps to the conclusion or to the action steps right away.  This is brought about by assuming at the outset of the call because they are too mindful (to a fault) of their AHT. Worse, they simply want to get rid of the customer the fastest way they could so they could take the next call. I do not recommend this.  I deeply abhor this.  Agents are better off listening to the customer first, paying attention to every detail of what they are saying, and confirming one’s understanding before working on the solution.  This does not only make the call flow smoothly.  It also saves time and effort.
  6. Maximize tools and resources.  Agents’ tools, software, programs, applicatons, knowledge base, and online job aids/cheat sheets are there for them to maximize and use responsibly.  They were provided to aid them in the conduct of their job because the company knows that they help get the work done faster and more accurately.  With this, agents should fully utilize and take advantage of what they have available at their disposal.
  7. Use hold sparingly.  As much as possible, agents are discouraged from always putting their customer on hold every time they need time to find something or to accomplish a task.  Placing the customer on hold is always only the last resort.  Agents can just walk the customer through what they are doing on their end (explaining what they do as they do it) or engaging the customer in a light conversation (small talk) instead.  If worse comes to worst or there is really no option left, especially when the agent needs more time than the usual, that is the only time they ask for the customer to hold.
  8. Multitask.  All workers or professionals in all industries do this.  It is not like this is only done in one industry or whathaveyou.  Call center agents are no different.  It makes them more effective in what they do if they know how to multitask and actually do it.  Agents should be a guru in typing fast, talking to their customer, and navigating on their tools/resources at the same time.  They get to accomplish more in the least time frame possible. Believe me.
  9. Last but not least, repeat difficult words, spellings, and names phonetically. Some agents are under the impression that they are not allowed to have their customer repeat what they said or spell their names, addresses, and other important pieces of information phonetically.  Well, let me correct them now.  Agents are actually perceived smarter and more efficient if they would be honest in letting their customers know that they do not know how their name or address is spelled and having them spell it.  It is not because they want to come off as stupid in spelling but it is because they consider such data important that they do not want to assume or gamble on acting intelligent when the truth is, they do not know how it is spelled.  So, it is as simple as asking, “I’m sorry.  How do you spell you name?” or “Could you spell out the name of your street for me slowly?”.  Customer information is very critical and nobody wants to be reprimanded or terminated just because of inputting an incorrect information into the database caused by pretending.

So, to summarize and in a few words, below is the summary of what must have been learned at this point.  Agents are ought to commit them to memory so they can be the top agent they want to be.

Call Personalization Tips:

  • Ask for their name politely.
  • Ask them to spell their name.
  • Ask for their name preference.
  • Ask those with tongue-twisting names to say how their name is pronounced correctly.
  • Add safe humor to the conversation.

The last part of this article for today is Exceeding Customer’s Expectations.  How do we exactly do that?  Below are some tips I proffer for the agents.

  1. Swallow that pride and be empathetic.  Customers are the very reason why agents have a job.  It is what they are paying for their product or service where their salaries come from.  Therefore, they should forget about that pride at work and treat the customers the right way.  Pride, negative that is, does not pay the bills.
  2. Take ownership of the call.  As previously explained, every agent who is responsibly and professionally representing the company he is taking inbound calls for must always own each of his/her calls.  What happens on the call is one’s own doing.  How the call ends is one’s decision.  What the customers say afterwards and how they react in the course of the conversation depend on what one replies with or how one behaves.  What the customer believes and holds on to come from what the agent says or explains.  To wit, the outcome of any call all hinges upon how the agent handles it.  It is not an excuse, thus, for any agent to pass the buck to a colleague or to blame the company.  Well, perhaps it may be a previous agent’s fault or the company’s doing because of the imperfections of the product or the service, but it does not mean no agent can turn the call around by doing his job ethically.
  3. Treat customers in a special way like the way anybody would treat his boss.  Our customers are our boss on the phone.  So, it makes sense that they get the royal treatment that they deserve.
  4. Be a human being and talk with both mind and heart.  Talking with just the mind leaves an agent speaking too formal, too stiff, too tense, and too geeky.  He becomes too centered on the solution that he forgets to strike up a good and humanly conversation with his customer.  On the contrary, if he just speaks with his heart, he tends to get carried away by his and his customer’s emotions that he loses sight of his objectives in helping his customer.  Consequently, he just feels sorry for the person.  He becomes biased towards the customer and dismisses the company’s own rights and protection including the reputation of the product or the service he is representing.  Ergo, the point here is there should be a reasonable balance between talking with the mind and using the heart.  Both departments should be consulted to be able to give the customer the best treatment he has to get.
  5. Go above and beyond the call of duty.  To exceed customers’ expectations, agents should always go the extra mile when helping them.  As we all know, customers who have gotten a great customer service experience tends to share their story with other people.  This leads to more people patronizing the product or buying the service.  Better yet, right after the call, they ask for the agent’s supervisor so they can just tell the person how thankful they are that they spoke with the agent.  This reflects back to the agent in terms of personal benefits like better scores on their scorecards, promotions, and even pay increases.
  6. Be polite all throughout the call.  Agents should always say “please”, “kindly”, “may” and other courtesy words/statements when assisting their customers. They just should not overdo it as it can also be quite annoying to listen to an excessively-courteous representative.  Just fine is better.
  7. Put that best foot forward on every call.  Agents should always do their best when helping their customers.  They should make sure that they do not leave any stone unturned.  In other words, they should exhaust all possible options to ensure that the customer’s issue is fixed, their questions answered, their concerns addressed, and their problems solved.  Part of this too is offering alternatives when what the customer wants cannot be directly given.
  8. Love customers’ feedback as much as anybody expects them to acknowledge and respect theirs.  Last but not least, agents should always be receptive and open-minded to their customers’ feedback the same way that they expect anybody else to listen to theirs.  Customer service should feed off their customers’ thoughts about the kind of service they are giving as that is what will help them improve their customer service and technical support.  Likewise, companies should do the same.  They will not be able to improve their product or service if they will not take into account their recommendations.

So, there you have it.  how I wish that after going thru this article today, readers (especially agents) now know how to provide a helluva (hell of a) customer service experience to their valued customers.

Tomorrow, we will talk about CALL CONTROL WITH RESULTS.  Please look forward to that.

Until then, BE EQUIPPED. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Excellent Customer Service on the Phone – PART III-B

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