Yesterday, we talked about the three initial stages or phases of a typical call flow and the different best practices and tips that call center agents must be reminded about and put into practice when they give customer service, excellent at that, to their customers on the phone. These first stages are Opening the Call, Listening and Comprehension, and Probing.
On this day, we are going to center on the next three phases of the call flow minus HANDLING CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS; the reason for which we will explain at the end of this article. They are Responding Appropriately and Intelligently and Telephone Etiquette and Courtesy.
STAGE FOUR: RESPONDING APPROPRIATELY AND INTELLIGENTLY
A lot of call center agents nowadays think that for as long as they have opened the call correctly and effectively, it is already an assurance that they already have a good call in the bag. Well, not in all cases. I do not want to sound self-contradictory in this juncture but although I first said that “all that starts well ends well” and “a call that was started right will expectedly end right”, what happens during the core of the conversation or the middle is of utmost importance too. You see, even if an agent commenced his call right but towards the middle, he loses control of the call or his patience and starts messing with the caller, it will surely open a can of worms that he will just see himself regretting at the end.
Therefore, how an agent replies and what he says in response to his customer’s query, concern, clarification, or complaint; play a vital role in the success or failure of a call. As the saying goes, “think first before you speak”. Agents will never know what will happen if a recklessly-delivered answer goes the wrong direction. In that regard, responses should be appropriate for what the customer said and should be intelligently-formulated.
Pointers for Responding Accurately without Sacrificing Quality
Below are the different guidelines that I offer to any agent who wants to know how to respond appropriately without sacrificing the quality of his delivery, etc.
1. Be personal. No customer is interested in talking to a customer service representative who talks like a voice-over or a recording. On the same note, they are are annoyed by insensitive and selfish agents who do not have any spot of concern for whomever they are talking to just so they could deliver their lines and get rid of the customer the fastest time that they can. Whom customers need to speak with are human beings who converse with them on a personal level; those who stray away from sounding too formal and those who do not speak like a walking contract. Worse, they never waste their time putting up with people who sound very scripted and stiff. Hence, agents should be personal and conversational. When they are, their customers would feel as though they are just talking to a friend. Consequentially, when they are more comfortable with whom they are speaking with, they feel at ease and they open up and participate more.
2. Acknowledge whatever emotion there is in the customer’s messages. Customers feel great when the feeling or the emotions that they carry on their shoulders every time they explain themselves at the onset of the call are being acknowledged. It is as if the customer service representative also feels what they feel, sees what they see, and experiences what they experience on their end. A lot of times, there are customers who do not really expect for their resolution to be solved immediately or at all. They just want to be able to reach someone from customer service or technical support that they can air their sentiments to or they can vent out their inconveniences to. Recognizing the situation the customers are stuck in at the moment relieves them of their worries, annoyance, etc more so if the agents empathize with them. Thus, when a customer says something, do not just jump instantly to the resolution. Whether it is empathizing, sympathizing, commending, appreciating, or simply acknowledging; agents should see to it that they accept the customer’s feedback wholeheartedly and with the passion to serve.
3. Agents should stick to the concern when responding and make sure that they do not ramble about things irrelevant to the subject matter. There are some agents who are just very wordy and speak so lengthily that they fail to hit the nail on its head. This is because instead of getting straight to the point after acknowledging what their customers said, they wander off to some other topics that are unnecessary, that do not add value to the conversation and that do not lead to the resolution. This also explains why their Average Handling Time or AHT is so high. Agents have to remember that providing customer service on the phone is not just a show or a contest of who sounds the most knowledgeable or who explains the most comprehensively. Even in a few words, so long as everything the customer wants to hear is mentioned, the job will be as good as done. Also, agents are not prohibited from making a small talk. However, there is a big difference between making an effort to build rapport and rambling about things that go off on a tangent. They, the agents, must then avert ending up doing the latter. Once again, one should stay on course to get to his destination the soonest time possible.
4. Develop open-ended questions to keep the conversation moving. When agents are not getting enough information from their customers or when they think, they are being fed the wrong specifics, it is very helpful when they ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are those which start with Who, When, Where, What, Which, Why, and How. They are purported to draw further details out of the customers. They are also used every time close-ended questions fail to work, when information is missing, or agents simply want their customers to tell them more. Whatever the case maybe, they may have to use these to their advantage.
5. Every time agents get sensitive information, they should confirm by restating it clearly. This is where paraphrasing comes in. Paraphrasing means repeating what the customer said using one’s own words or explanation. When this is used, not only do agents get to have the customer confirm that they understood them correctly but they also get to have them correct them for any misinterpretation, extraneous information, or lacking details. As we have learned from the previous article, assuming is a mortal sin among call center agents. When they do not confirm, an assumed correct interpretation or understanding (when in fact, it is not) will bark up the wrong tree later on.
6. Base your response from the customer’s own words. Another way of paraphrasing is basing one’s response from what the customer said. This has always been proven effective provided that the agent never listens selectively and processes everything that he listens to. Common sense says that there is nothing more reliable than what the customers themselves say. Is there?
7. Agents should be as conversational as they can. We are talking about responding appropriately. Aren’t we? Customers love it when agents are actually striking up a conversation with them. They hate it when it is like they are listening to a recording of the companies’ policies and procedures booklet or the audio of the products or services’ terms of service. Do you get what I mean here? Furthermore, they smirk at agents who are no different than the automated voice prompt that they first listened to before they finally got a hold of them on the queue. Therefore, agents should make it a point to be as conversational as they can. Even if they are talking to businessmen or high-ranking officials of a business, they should interact on a personal level without setting aside telephone etiquette and professionalism, of course.
Remember this. That adage that says, “CUSTOMERS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT” is bull**** and has never been right. As a matter of fact, many customers are not reasonable most of the time. That’s a fact. In spite of that, they should always be given the kind of service that they deserve since they are paying with their hard-earned money. Therefore, agents should make this their new guiding principle regarding CUSTOMER SERVICE — that “CUSTOMERS ARE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT BUT THEY ALWAYS HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE TREATED RIGHT”.
Facts about Customers:
To be able to respond appropriately and intelligently to customers, agents should be educated about some facts that influence how customers think, what they say, how they behave or react, and the kinds of decision they arrive at when they talk. Those are:
- They have expectations. Whether agents like this or not or even if they avoid this or not, it remains the same that all customers call in with expectations that they require them to meet before the end of the call. If these expectations are not met, they usually feel that they are being shortchanged. When they do not feel contented, they commonly do not get off the phone until they get what they want. In some cases, they resort to asking for the representative’s immediate supervisor so they can bring their woes to their attention with the latter being expected to pay attention to them and do something as well. With this in mind, it is then any agent’s mission to make sure that these expectations are met.
- They expect to be appreciated. There are some customers whose weakness is being commended for a job well done on their end or for being appreciated for, let us say, doing something that does the company a favor. So, every time a customer pays his dues on time, upgrades his plan to a more expensive package, buys additional items, or extends his contract; agents should grab the opportunity to thank them for their excellent choice or appreciate them for their wonderful business. Agents should give this a go and they should expect a more pleased and feel-good customer.
They have ever-changing wants and needs. Customers are oftentimes unpredictable with what they want to happen or what they need companies to do and this is something agents must be prepared for. That is why it is beneficial for agents never to assume that what a customer chooses or decides to do today is the same as what he will choose or decide to do at a different time. Always watch out for the customers’ human nature to be unpredictable and to change minds. Always ask and never, for the nth time just to reiterate, assume.
They expect to get what they ordered, signed up for or purchased. Keep this in mind to better understand why customers get mad or cancel their service. They would not have to call customer service or tech support if they do not have problems with their product or service to begin with. Right? If they are satisfied with what they are using or if they are getting what they have signed up for, why would they waste their valuable time dialing that hotline and lining up in the absurdly “it-takes-forever” queue? So, instead of agents feeling bad about the long line of customers waiting in the queue and having to put up with their idiosyncrasies, why don’t they weed off what the root cause really is? This way, they are able to identify with their customers more and their behavior.
They want the best value for their money (or for time spent). We all know money is something customers do not just pick up everywhere or obtain by just slacking off. It is something that they work hard for to earn. So, similar to the previous item, this backs up why they are very particular about whether the money and the time they spent or are spending with their product or service are reasonable, affordable, and understandable. Otherwise, they complain or worse, they cancel and never sign up again. It is for this very reason why agents should always make the customer feel good about what they are paying for and to make them think that they did the right and the best thing getting the product or the service and that they will never regret their customer experience. Moreover, this is also something that can be reinforced and cemented over the phone. They also want the best value for the time they are spending getting a hold of an agent on the line. Agents should then ensure they get the best contact center experience they would not think they can get elsewhere.
- They want to be understood. Customers are like toddlers at times. They are either hungry for attention or just want to be acknowledged, accepted, and understood. The more agents overlook acknowledgement of what they are saying, dismiss what they want reps to hear, and fail to verbalize that they are understood or being understood, the more likely that they snap back or they start acting in a manner that frustrates even the best agent there is. So, agents should always use verbal cues and let them hear (since they cannot be seen) their agreement (or even disagreement) in a nice and acceptable way.
There you have it ladies and gentlemen in the call center industry. Knowing these facts help agents know their customers more and be extra patient with them. These facts help them know how to please them and where to attack the problem.
Seven Cs of Communication:
To be able to respond as intelligently as possible to customers, agents who want to provide extraordinary customer care should remember the following Cs of Communication:
1. Clear – This does not just include speaking without fillers and not stuttering or stammering. Speaking clearly is also about not sounding confusing or beating around the bush. Also, this refers to speaking fluently with understandable grammar and neutral accent.
2. Concise – Being concise is being able to explain everything or being able to respond appropriately with the fewest words possible. It is replying with “short-but-sweet” statements.
3. Correct – Correct responses refer to that which is based on facts and which is the best response to the customer’s statements.
4. Courteous – Being courteous is being able to represent the company well without disregarding the kind of treatment that should be provided to the customers and that they deserve. It is being assertive without rubbing them the wrong way. It is about giving them an extraordinary customer care experience.
5. Conversational – Being conversational is refraining from sounding scripted or robotic. It is all about personalizing the call and making the interaction a friendly conversation without setting aside the respect for the customer.
6. Convincing – Refers to a response, which is believable and workable and intelligently-thought and delivered.
7. Complete – Refers to responses that lead to first call resolution because they cover everything.
These Seven Cs of Effective Communication are what separate regular and just good agents from extraordinary and great ones who win awards on the floor every now and then and who get promoted first. Thus, if agents want to soar to greater heights in their chosen career apart from the nostalgia to serve customers the best way they can, they are encouraged to put these to practice.
The other aspect of being able to respond appropriately and intelligently to customers is being able to say things positively. It is all about avoiding saying something that will piss the customers off or negative responses that might push their buttons (the sensitive ones, that is). Positive Scripting or Phraseology is about thinking first before one speaks and watering down naturally negative statements by taking it easy on the negative words like “NO”, “NEVER”, “CANNOT”, “WILL NOT” “SHOULD NOT”, “MUST NOT”, “DOES NOT”, “DO NOT”, etc. Positive scripting also covers delivering bad news without coming off too harsh and using courtesy words when making customers understand something.
So, agents should make an effort to say their piece positively. It may be very difficult but all it takes is thinking first before uttering a single word. It is about giving alternatives when one cannot directly grant the customer’s request or give what the same wants. It is also about maintaining sounding professional all throughout the conversation and minding one’s manners.
Minding One’s Tone:
“It is not only what you say but how you say it”. Tone plays a critical role in how agents’ manners on the phone are perceived by their customers and even how their message is interpreted. Even if the agent says his lines positively and he has the best vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation; a conversation might still go awry if he sounds tense or always on the fighting mode. The following tips below help agents know what to do to abide by this principle.
1. Picture oneself as the customer. Putting oneself in his customer’s shoes makes him think of the consequences of his actions even before he says what he attempts to say. It is like asking oneself, “How would my customer react if I say this?” or “Would my customer like if I explain it this way?”. This way, the agent thinks of a better way of saying something that has a negative implication in it or sugarcoats it with positive, courteous, or impact-cushioning words.
2. Be conscious with the way one breathes. Even how an agent breathes or him making his exhalation and inhalation audible on the phone matters in any conversation. If only such sounds could be cancelled out over the phone, it would be better. Unfortunately, they could not. This is why agents should be wary of these things. They do not want to be thought of as sounding irritable, impatient, or upset. Their deep breathing might be mistaken as giving a sigh of annoyance or disappointment. Therefore, if they are going to breathe in and out or clear their throat, they should make sure they do not sound with any mark of ill feelings toward their customers even if it is the case. They can just keep their emotions to themselves and hidden.
3. Sit comfortably but maintain a good posture. Sitting positions also contribute to how agents sound on the phone. Although each one of them has his own working style that involves sitting preferences, sitting comfortably and maintaining a good posture at the same time aid in the clear sound production. When sounds come out clean and clear, it affects the agents’ disposition or mood and they are able to explain themselves to their customers without any tension at all.
4. Insert inflections and rhythm into one’s speech. Engaging customers in a healthy conversation also involves some theatrics and music to it. Inserting inflections (altering one’s voice pitch, tone or modulation) and rhythm (stressing and unstressing syllables when speaking) do not only help one sound really nice on the phone (like a DJ) but also helps one not sound combative at all.
5. Match one’s tone with the customer’s emotions or the ambiance of the situation. Do not get this wrong. This does not mean that when a customer is mad, the agent should sound mad too or when the former is shouting, the latter should raise his voice just the same. These are but exceptions of course. However, when customers are sorrowful, agents may need to match that tone by sounding sincerely concerned if not sounding sad too. Customers would feel that they found a shoulder to cry on in the agent. Similarly, when the customer sounds all-bubbly, the agent may match this happy state of mind by sounding lively too.
6. Make smiles heard. An agent who speaks with a smile on his face is a music to a customer’s ears. Agents should make it a habit to open the call smiling, converse smiling, and wrap the call up smiling unless of course the customer’s mood changes the situation all together. Wit this, they should follow Tip #5 which explains mirroring the customer’s mood.
7. Be conversational and do not rely on scripts. Unless required by the management or the client, scripts are only there to serve as guides so agents know what to say especially when they talk policies or so they know how to explain intricacies about the products or the service. Nevertheless, agents are still better off connecting to their customers and sounding conversational.
Mind your tone and be guided by these important considerations for offering excellent customer service. With these being applied, agents reading this article are assured of a smooth conversation with their customers.
Managing Dead Air thru Small Talk
One of the common concerns of not only agents but call center leaders as well is managing dead air. As we all already know, dead air refers to an unintended interruption in a broadcast when there is no sound. In the call center industry though, this jargon refers to when an agent stops talking and neither does the customer so there are a few moments when there is total silence on the line. This is usually a ding on professionalism on the part of agents because they are expected to carry an uninterrupted or smooth-flowing conversation with their customers and even on product knowledge because sometimes, an agent not talking may mean he is thinking of what to say next, the answer to his customer’s question, or he is not sure about something. But there are several ways to kill dead air. One of which is by initiating small talk.
Small talk pertains to a light conversation or a chitchat with a customer just so there is no dead air or to avoid having to put the customer on hold while something is being accomplished on the representative’s end
Below are a few tips on how to make a small talk the right way.
He should make sure that he can manage such conversation to avoid getting out of hand. As mentioned, agents should be able to steer the conversation back to the main issue. Otherwise, they might regret they started a conversation with the customer.
STAGE FIVE: TELEPHONE ETIQUETTE AND COURTESY.
The next portion of the second installment of our three-part blog series about “EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE ON THE PHONE” is Telephone Etiquette and Courtesy. Here, we will talk about what telephone etiquette and telephone courtesy mean and what else is there to know about the topic.
What are Telephone Etiquette and Telephone Courtesy?
Telephone Etiquette – is simply good breeding over the phone. It also refers to the display of good manners and right conduct when speaking with a customer on the line especially in call centers.
Telephone Courtesy – is showing respect to the buying or paying customer thru behaviors indicative of polished manners and regard for other people’s feelings.
The next representative the misdirected call will be transferred to does not know of the incoming call.
This is similar to the Cold Transfer with the only difference being that the previous representative already dials the options or the extensions on the customer’s behalf before putting him through the next representative.
Warm or Announced Transfer
Here, the next representative the misdirected caller will be transferred to is informed about the transfer.