“Bad customer service ruins your brand,” says communications expert Elaine Allison. “Everyone knows that customers will tell more people when they’ve had a bad experience, whereas they will forgive a business if it tries.” Here, the customer service guru shares her tips for optimal communication over the phone.
1. Be courteous
Basic manners are the foundation of good customer service. This includes answering the phone with the company’s and staff member’s name, and utilizing polite language: please, thank you, and have a good evening. Tone is especially important over the phone, when you can’t rely on body language. Callers should feel that they’re being listened to, and that the person they’re talking to cares. Always end calls by asking if there is anything else the customer needs.
2. Be prompt
Answer the phone and respond to voicemails quickly. “The customer typically expects calls to be answered within three rings and a 24-hour maximum response time with voicemail,” says Allison.
3. Be clear
Ensure voicemail messages are easy to understand and include an introduction, any information you might need from the caller and when someone will return their call. End the message by directing them to the company website and informing them of any further relevant information (such as restricted hours during holidays.)
4. Be calm
If a customer is angry, it’s hard not to respond in kind—but expert customer service representatives know how to put on a shield and let people vent, Allison says. One tactic she suggests is the “broken record” technique: staff should repeat what they will do for the caller and, wherever possible, offer options.
5. Be helpful
“Experts tell the caller what they can or will do, never what they can’t,” says Allison. Train staff to find results for customers, even if it means taking a message, looking up information online and calling them back. “It’s about problem solving,” she adds. “Those who know these skills and get results keep their customers.”
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