No matter how many digital and social channels emerge, the telephone remains one of the most important and valuable customer service tools.
Many businesspeople view phone calls as a distraction, preferring to communicate with their customers and clients on email, instant messaging or SMS. But when it comes to providing a human touchpoint for your business, it’s hard to beat the immediacy and connection delivered by
Founder and CEO of International Customer Service Professionals (ICSP) Tricia Olsen says: “A telephone call should not be a bother, it’s an opportunity. If people are apprehensive about taking calls, it’s because they haven’t been given the skills.”
According to Olsen, the average phone call only lasts around 40 seconds.
“A telephone call indicates a sense of immediacy and urgency,” explains Olsen. “That’s very important because we are so time poor. Who would want to drive to six stores to find out if they have a certain item in stock or drive to a restaurant if they don’t know whether or not they have any tables available? If you send an email or enquire online, the customer also does not know if the person is at their desk or has received their message.”
A well-designed website supported by well-trained sales assistants can pre-empt many customer enquiries; however, customers may still need to chat to someone on the phone before they are ready to make a purchase. “The telephone is a vital channel for every business,” says Olsen. “There’s no point in having a state-of-the-art shop if you don’t back it up with state-of-the-art service.
“When hiring a customer service representative or salesperson, start by choosing someone who likes people. They need to have high emotional intelligence and remain optimistic and resilient, especially when the customer says ‘no’.
“If the interviewee doesn’t have previous customer service experience, you can use behavioural interviewing techniques to identify their attitudes and behaviours in other situations.”
Two of the most common reasons that customers call are for sales (or to clarify details that will lead to a sale) and for complaints. Here are Tricia Olsen’s tips for best practice in handling telephone enquiries.
Sales call checklist
1 Value the phone call – get excited! Be in the right frame of mind before you take the call.
2 Answer the phone with a professional, friendly greeting. Give the caller the company’s name and your name. “Thank you for calling Tim’s IT Supplies. This is Angie.”
3 Be flexible. Olsen says that businesses should be cautious about using sales scripts, as you can risk sounding robotic. If you want to use one, it should be used as a framework to ensure you don’t miss out key details like getting the customer’s contact details or order particulars, rather than recited word for word. “This product comes in black, white and green. Which colour would you like?”
4 Actively listen. Make notes and paraphrase what the customer says to demonstrate that you have heard and understood. “So, you need to arrange delivery to a different address for this order only, is that correct?”
5 Don’t assume that you know what the customer wants. Questions should make up approximately 75 per cent of your sales calls, to identify problems and offer solutions.
6 Know your product. Needing to ask someone else creates an impression that you may not be trained.
7 Use the customer’s name. This creates a greater impression of active listening, grabs the customer’s attention and brings their focus back to the call. However, don’t repeat their name too often and don’t be too familiar – ask for permission before using a first name or an abbreviation. “Do you prefer Abigail or Abby?”
8 Record all the information from the call. This is your customer intelligence – a database of notes about the customer and which products or services they are interested in. Being able to refer back to something specific from their last call demonstrates listening and care, and can really impress your customers when you understand their likes and dislikes. A database of call records also ensures that your customer intelligence isn’t lost if a customer service representative or salesperson leaves the company.
9 Deliver / follow up on the call. For example, if the customer is having difficulties completing an online sale, ask if you can talk them through it while they are on the phone. Get the caller’s name and contact details so you can send them appropriate marketing material and include a personal note, rather than a blank compliment slip. If you promise to call a customer back, make the call, even if you just need to tell them that you’re still working on their enquiry and will keep them informed. DWYPYWD – do what you promised you would do!
1 View a complaint as an opportunity. Around 70 per cent of customers who didn’t like your product or service won’t tell you so,
they simply won’t use you again. If someone has a complaint, use it
as a learning opportunity for continued improvement.
2 Be empathetic, compassionate and understanding. Use active listening to work out what the real issue is and to demonstrate that you understand and care. Walk in the customer’s shoes – what does it feel like?
3 Don’t take it personally. A customer who has a bad experience may simply want to vent. This may be triggered or exacerbated by stressful life events completely unrelated to you and your company.
4 There are no difficult customers, only difficult behaviours. This person might be someone you would really like, if you met in different circumstances. When people become angry, they are acting this way to take control of a situation and get a result.
5 Get the customer talking to the right person. If you need to escalate a complaint, make sure you direct the customer to someone who has the knowledge and authority to address their concerns.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.
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