In today’s world, besides a face-to-face encounter, customers primarily use a telephone or email when they want to reach a Customer Service Representative (CSR). The focus of this article is on basic telephone etiquette with the understanding that there is only one difference between communicating face-to-face and communicating over the telephone. You are heard, but not seen. I will leave the e-mail and the CSR for another time.
Telephone communication is one step removed from face-to-face communication in that the CSR cannot see the individual and hence will not get the full impact of the communication process. What is missing is an appreciation of the demeanor, look and body language of the customer. However a critical listening ear can certainly detect the level of feelings projected by the customer. A CSR should be able to determine if the customer is angry, anxious, concerned, frustrated or inquisitive by listening to the tone of the voice.
Smile as you talk. Although the customer can’t see you a smile somehow comes through the telephone. Physically smiling forces the CSR to speak clearly so you will be better understood. A smile often reduces frustration and has a calming effect on the customer.
It is common practice among many businesses to place people on hold. Customers are often peeved about this particularly if they are on hold for lengthy periods of time while ‘canned’ music or “company advertisements” are played over and over again in their ear. By the time the CSR comes on the line, the customer is frustrated and if they are mad about a product or a service they become more irate. Recognize the frustration and apologize sincerely for having to place the customer on hold. Your apology does two things: 1) you immediately give the impression that you understand the customer’s frustration; 2) you reduce the potential for a tense conversation about “being on hold.”
Control the length of time you place a customer on “hold.” If you have identified your name and the name of your company – you can hold indefinitely; if you have not, place the customer on hold for a maximum of 15 seconds.
Breathe and Pauses
Use short sentences when you talk. This lets you breathe easily so you can control your voice. For those of us who tend to ramble talking in short sentences takes practice. As you speak keep the microphone end of the phone away from your mouth so that your breathing doesn’t project over the phone.
Pause after each point you make. This allows the point to sink in and gives some time for the customer to respond.
Turn sentences into questions whenever possible. This makes the customer more ready to respond and give you feedback during your conversation. Ask what, how, why, when and where questions. These tend to be more open-ended and give the customer a chance to explain in more detail their concern. After the response paraphrase your understanding of the customer’s response. This allows the customer to agree with your understanding or correct your understanding. Once there is mutual understanding ask for agreement.
One of the advantages that the CSR has is the customer often uses their name at the beginning of a conversation. “This is Richard speaking.” If the customer doesn’t use their name, then ask as well as give your name. During the conversation use the customer’s name frequently. This shows that you are interested in him/her rather than just another number. Using names perks up the person to listen more attentively and initiates a closer bond between the customer and CSR. Whenever possible, close the conversation with your name and thank the person by name. Indicate that if there are further questions later to ask for you by name or indicate that you have made a note of their concern to file so that when the customer calls back another CSR can pick up the conversation from where you left off earlier.
Whenever the CSR is conversing with the customer, basic etiquette is always in order. Keep three words in your head at all times: respect, polite and tact. A CSR does not have to accept telephone bullying, swearing and disrespectful behaviour on the part of the customer, but the CSR never bullies, swears or disrespects the customer. Respectfulness, politeness and tactfulness projects a CSR that is in control, wants to listen and adheres to the dignity of others. All customers are different, but all share certain characteristics. One of them is they want to be heard with respect.
Listening is an absolute critical telephone skill. The CSR not only has to listen to what is said, but also what is not said. This takes a special skill. Often what is said is the presenting problem for the customer. What is not said is the ‘real problem.’ By listening to both what is said and what is not said, the CSR can assist customers in clarifying their request and the CSR gains an understanding of the customer’s real issue. To learn more about listening to understand read this article.
Paraphrasing and listening go hand in hand. It is the skill you use to check to make sure what you have understood relates to what you have heard. It is a useful way of giving you some time to think of what to say next. It is your assurance that what you have heard is interpreted correctly. It is also a way to show the other person that you have understood them and gives them an opportunity to add to or clarify their statements. When you paraphrase you usually end with rephrasing what the person has said.
Sometimes we use jargon, complex sentences and unclear logic when speaking with customers. Jargon is useful shorthand for us, but if customers don’t understand what it means then we do not serve them appropriately. Use words that translate the jargon. These will improve the chances of customer’s understanding the message.
Tone of voice
Ever wonder what our customers might be thinking when they hear our voice? Usually if they like what they hear they will more likely perceive you as confident and professional. If they don’t like what they hear they may “tune out.” During in-person conversations your voice is one of the vehicles we can use to build trust. This is more true when we are speaking over the telephone. Our voice tone conveys more than words - it places emphasis on what we say and how it may be understood. Connected with voice tone is voice profile - how fast we speak, the pitch we use, the loudness of our voice and the clarity of our words. To be a star customer service professional your voice must always sound
This may sound silly, but it works. Use gestures as you talk. The customer won’t be able to see you, but it will help you make your point. We often use gestures when we speak face-to-face. We use them to: help us with our presentation, provide emphasis, express our thoughts and communicate emotions. Since gestures often come naturally to us and can be interpreted as conveying warmth, energy and affability, they become a useful technique even when they are not seen.
Leaving a Message
A final reminder: when leaving a message make it short, give your name and telephone at the beginning of the message and at the end, and speak slowly.
Thanks for Reading,
Richard P. Fontanie
The fourth article in the Radiating Customer Services Series.
One of the key ingredients to Radiating Customer Service is to project a positive customer attitude. Our attitude is not something that can be bought. It’s ours and how we project it makes all the difference in our relationship with our customers. This article focuses on two things: 1) claiming the importance of your work as customer service representative, and 2) managing your attitude.
The importance of your work, a positive image, and personal self-esteem coupled with personal knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, values, attitudes and habits (KSAE’VAH), bring the “I” factor to customer service.
The importance of my work
The ‘I’ factor is really you at your core self. How the “I” aligns with your work is critically important to your success. Alignment with work really comes about when you see yourself fully alive in mind, body, and spirit and steer yourself with a personal focus (purpose), a sense of discipline and sound interpersonal relationships. You then can have a sense of passion about yourself and your work and contribute to the organization’s strategies, structure, culture and values. (Based on the work of Stephen Covey)
Once your “I” recognizes the “power” you have within yourself, which comes from a deep spiritual connection to a spiritual source, and how that connects with what you do, then purpose, passion and values become truly alive for us in our everyday action. When this occurs, you can then move from just “doing the job,” to being “fully alive in my job.”
The sense of pride and accomplishment comes from doing the best work you can do – no matter what the job happens to be. A sense of confidence comes from having product knowledge and the skills to do the job.
We are who we are because of our KSAE’VAHs all of which may be strengthened or weakened by what we do, who we associate with and what we say. Studies show that people respond positively when they encounter a positive attitude, respect and self-regard. To become a “star” in customer service we need to be knowledgeable and skilled in our work and to err on the side of positive values, attitudes and habits.
Our feelings make a difference in the customer service profession and the quality of our work. Sometimes we are reluctant to talk about our feelings and the significance they have in our daily activities. We need to understand that our feelings are easily telegraphed to others, just as we pick up the attitudes and moods of others. We really can’t hide them.
We all have bad days and they affect the way we approach our day. When we are in a bad mood sometimes we have a tendency to try to hide it and not tell others what is bothering us. The reality is that the way we feel is often telegraphed to others through our demeanor and body language. We think we are camouflaging them, but we are not. People often see through the façade.
Bad moods don’t go away automatically we have to work on them. We can talk to a trusting person about them and garner their support as we work through difficult moments. Other times we may need expert help. Don’t be afraid to seek ‘help’. Other times, we can deal with them ourselves by facing them head on and reinforcing our own mood behavior. The first step towards dealing with mood swings is viewing ourselves as ok.
First, Feel good about yourself.
Our success in dealing with others comes from our success in dealing with ourselves. We can give positive vibes if we feel good about receiving positive vibes ourselves. We can compliment people if we can handle them ourselves. The reverse is true as well if we are uncomfortable receiving compliments we will be uncomfortable giving compliments. Take the time to:
Second: Add a Smile
A smile is a simple thing to do. It doesn’t cost us much yet enriches those who receive it. A smile takes a moment to give and nourishes relationships in business and in friendships. Often customer service personnel meet people who are weary, seem discouraged, sad or troubled. They can recognize this because of the customer’s body language or from their tone of voice. A warm smile brings those people comfort and a bit of cheer. The customer service representative can give away a smile freely and adds value to the person receiving it.
Sometimes our customers are too tired to give us a smile, give them one of yours. Sometimes we are too tired to give a smile, turn to a colleague and receive a smile from them.
“A smile of welcome calms a worried or harassed customer.
A smile reassures customers that a problem can be solved.
A smile leaves a pleasurable glow when people take their leave”
Third: Present a Professional Image
How we present ourselves relates to our self-confidence, attitude and feelings of self-worth. Simply put, how we project ourselves outwardly reflects who we want to become inwardly. If we have a sense of low self-worth we project ourselves accordingly; if we have a high regard of self, we project that demeanor. Customers want to deal with customer representatives who project themselves as knowledgeable, positive and helpful. Here are seven hints to presenting yourself appropriately:
Remember: It’s not your customers job to remember you, but your job to make sure they don’t have a chance to forget you.
Pilot to co-pilot please run down the check list before we take off!
Before a pilot takes off down the runway, he confers with his co-pilot who runs down a check list to assess whether everything is in order before take off. Here is your check list before you pick up the telephone or step in front of a customer.
Thanks for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie
The third article in the series Radiating Customer Service.
A Customer Service Charter clearly outlines a company’s approach to customer service. It sets the expectations for everyone in the organization and what customers can expect from them.
We have learned that customer service involves everyone one in the organization and all have responsibility for: shared ownership, total customer management and a positive impact.
A charter for customer service usually includes these four elements:
1. Organization’s purpose for customer service
2. Principles or values within which service personnel are expected to operate
3. Standards as a benchmark against which actual performance may be measured
4. Measurements for success which give the basis for performance accountability
Customer Service Purpose
A customer service purpose gives everyone in the organization or in a team a sense of direction and a rallying call for action. Once understood each customer service personnel can then take ownership and translate the statement into their day to day practice. Here are a few examples of customer service missions:
• “To take ownership of each call, manage each request correctly, dispatch efficiently and communicate to ensure the customer’s complete satisfaction” A Call Center
• “To provide a positive, seamless, accurate experience for all internal and external customers; we do this to ensure the safety of the public.” A Professional Regulatory Body
• “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.”
• “At Sit ‘n Sleep, we believe that you, the customer, are our greatest asset. We are dedicated to creating positive experiences for you – both inside our stores and out….”
• “Irvine Scientific is committed to provide courteous, professional and superior service to our customers and internal departments that we are privileged to serve.”
• “Employees solve customer puzzles.” Best Buy
Customer Service Values
Values are statements of beliefs which we hold as having intrinsic worth and want to preserve. They are qualities we want to live by. Customer Service values express the way we treat customers. They are also the way we want to be treated. Here are some examples:
• Treat customers with dignity, respect and courtesy.
• Listen earnestly and objectively to the needs of customers.
• Respond to customers in a timely, efficient and responsible manner.
• Provide excellent customer service.
• We are committed to achieving the highest customer satisfaction.
Customer Service Standards
Customer standards are established to provide consistency in providing service. It is essential for delivering a product or service where quality is number one. The question is: How rigidly should customer service personnel follow the standard?
There are usually three types of standards:
• Rigid standards which allow for no deviation, for example: all telephone calls must be returned within two hours.
• Flexible standards which allow employees to adjust the standard based on guidelines, for example: all telephone calls must be returned within two hours however if time doesn’t permit because you are serving other customers then use your discretion in returning the call.
• Total discretion which allows employees to decide on the spot a best service solution, for example: the timing of returning a telephone call is left up to the employee as long as customers are satisfied
Writing down standards of service provides consistency in approach for all those involved and gives a basis for performance discussions with individuals as to how they are adhering to them.
Measurements for Success
Successful companies have developed dashboards to monitor customer service outcomes. They collect raw data and know how many customers were served, what they bought, what the return rate was on each product, where they live within their marketplace, whether they purchased on-line or in a brick and mortar retail outlet.
They also have developed systematic ways of measuring customer satisfaction for example: using surveys, focus groups, round table discussions with customers and employees, on the spot requests (i.e. stopping customers they shop and asking about their level of service satisfaction).
Successful companies also ensure employees receive on-going customer service training. Customer service training usually entails a review of the company Customer Service Charter, approaches to different types of customers, telephone and email etiquette, listening skills, dealing with difficult customer situations, dealing with customers with different cultural expectations, use of body language, and professional image.
Questions to Explore
Does our company or organization have a Customer Service Charter? If not, should we have one? Do we measure our customer service outcomes? Do we have a dashboard of raw data pertaining to customers? Do we have customer service standards? Does everyone know what they are? How do we know our customers are satisfied with our services? Do we have a consistent and regular customer service training program?
Thank you for Reading,
Richard P. Fontanie
Since customer service is such an important aspect of business, I will be writing articles over the course of the next several months on this topic. The articles may be a refresher for some, and I hope will provide new ways to improve service for others. Let's begin.
Businesses need customers. Yet, experience suggests that customer service is not always right within businesses. We hear complaints from customers concerning: poor face-to-face service, negative telephone etiquette, inappropriate handling of complaints, and bored customer service personnel. However, when quality customer service is provided we learn that customers are happy, moral is enhanced, the business is well regarded, and the business's bottom line is improved.
When I facilitated customer service workshops business owners consistently told me, after customer service training and after all other factors were eliminated, their revenue was increased by 6-12 percent. This suggests Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) can turn negative approaches to customer service into positive ones.
Who are our Customers
Customers come to us in two ways. The first and most obvious way is through our doors, the internet, emails and over the telephone. These are our coveted external customers. The second way, and not so obvious, is through our organization. They are people we work with daily. They are our internal customers including our boss, manager, team leader, and colleagues. When we relate to customers whether internally or externally our responsibility remains the same which is to treat them with kindness, respect and dignity.
We are all customers as each of us purchase goods or services from others. When we, as a customer, enter any type of business, we want to be treated fairly, respectfully, and honestly. We expect those who serve us know something about the products, listen to our needs and wants, and approach us with a positive and optimistic attitude. We remember these people. The same is true for customers who enter our place of business. They remember the CSRs who treated them well. This exchange between the customer and those who serve is one of the heart – it touches the level of feelings. Maya Angelou put it this way, “People will forget what you said...People will forget what you did...But people will never forget how you made them feel."
So, what we do, how we do it, and how it makes us feel, influences our relationships with customers; and, it appears there is little difference between what we expect as a customer and what our customers expect of us. When FACSi(a) researched what customers expected from CSRs it found they wanted: quality service, a listening ear, an optimistic attitude, positive approach, and solutions to their problems or at least a referral to where service may be obtained. It also found that customers expect service providers to be knowledgeable, well organized, honest, and fair.
There is something else going on with today's customers, and that is their relationship with the internet. With the advent of the internet customers have access to information about the products they want and hence are more knowledgeable about them. Sometimes because of their "Google" search they know more about the product than the CSR. They often know where the products come from, what they are made of, how they are made, whether they are ethically produced and how they compare with other products.
Customers are also more discerning in their choice of service and are looking for a positive customer experience, want a personal touch, seek quality products and value for money. They will go where their needs are met, so it is increasingly important for businesses and CSRs to meet these evolving customer requirements. (For more on this see my article on "The Emerging Retail Experience.)
As businesses provide better service expectations increase and in turn customers expect an increase in the level of service. Someone once said: “Every experience we have as a customer sets a benchmark against which the next experience is judged. This means that we expect better and better service." Darrell Rigby put it this way, "Each wave of change doesn't eliminate what comes before it, but it reshapes the landscape and redefines consumer expectations, often beyond recognition. Retailers relying on earlier formats either adapt or die out."
This suggests that each time businesses improve the customer experience, customers will come back to the business. It also suggests the businesses must consistently up-grade everyone in the organization to meet new and emerging customer expectations..
What is Customer Service
Now we come to the basic question: Just what is customer service?
Customer Service simply refers to managing all those points of exchange between the customer and the business. These exchanges are often called “moments of truth”. They determine whether the customer will be pleased or not. So, every time someone meets an internal or external customer, customer service begins.
The CSR, in whatever position, is the conduit through which the organization is known, and is for the customer the ‘face’ of the organization. Every time an individual meets a customer the stage is set for an impression of service and a “moment of truth” (first coined by Jan Carlzon, president of the Scandinavian Airline SAS). The complete sequence of “moments of truth” – all those acts performed by those who contribute to the customer experience- become known as the full “cycle of service”.
Moments of truth may occur hundreds of times within the cycle of service, for example the cycle of service could include: the customers perception of how the manufacturer packaged the goods and how they are showcased on the shelves; how the customer relates to the store environment and how the CSR treats the customer over the telephone, when he browses for items, approaches the counter, refers the customer to someone else, or when the customer pays for the goods. The cycle of service covers the whole of the customer experience. The Scandinavian Airline discovered more than 50,000 occasions when staff interacted with customers. Each interaction became a “moment of truth.”
In any given day of service, the CSRs can enhance moments of truth by: wishing someone a “nice day,” paying attention to detail, making the most of a bad experience, saying "thank you" as if they mean it, and remembering a regular customer's name. This is common courtesy and just being kind to people, one person at a time.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie
My next article will explore the types of relationships we have with customers