As a customer service/sales trainer and coach, I hear folks carping daily about the overuse of technology in communication; texting, emailing, googleing, blogging, skypeing, web chatting, video conferencing, networking, podcasting, and social networking, ad nauseam. But regardless how sophisticated and cutting edge people become, when they need to speak with their physician, insurance agent, mortgage broker, exterminator or any number of other service providers and vendors, somebody better know how to answer an old-school telephone! 

Customer Service TrainingBoth attitude and technique are very important when it comes to serving customers over the telephone. Since perception is reality, as you talk to customers, how you say things is often more important than the content of what you say. It all begins when you pick up a ringing phone.

In this post I won’t try to discuss every aspect of telephone etiquette, but here are three response categories to learn and remember when servicing customers and selling prospects over the phone.

1. People can smell a phony a mile away:

A customer call is never an interruption – It’s the same principle as an athlete learning to play hurt, so that the fans never know when he or she is not feeling 100%. Of course, calls come in when you are busy with other things, but you must learn not to project your exasperation by sighing, or projecting a negative tone of voice. Think of it as a form of multi-tasking!

Put a smile in your voice – Think about a time when you were being served on the phone. I’ll bet you could tell if the employee you were speaking with was smiling or not. Since you may not always be in a “smiling mood”, try keeping a small mirror near your phone, so you can glance at it occasionally to check your facial condition, and make an adjustment, when necessary.

Try to help the customer – Your purpose is not to deflect or discard callers, but rather to HELP them. Since “people can smell a phony”, they will intrinsically know if you are seriously attempting to resolve an issue or treat them like a hot potato. In Proverbs 3 the Bible says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.” That’s good advice.

First impressions are formed in 4-6 seconds – You have very little time to convince callers that you care about them and their concerns. Once they’ve “profiled” you it’s very difficult to convince them differently. People rarely change how they feel about other people.

Every call is unique – One guy is checking on an order, while the next call comes from a lady complaining about a billing error. Then a cheerful gal rings you up seeking clarification of a product feature before placing her order, followed by a grumpy fellow reporting an item damaged during shipping and delivery. You have to learn to adapt like a chameleon to different surroundings.

2. Learn to become a good listener as you interact with callers:

Empathize with the customer – If you’re not sure, the dictionary defines empathy as “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.”  Dr. Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, states in Habit #5 that “You must first understand before being understood.” Just remember that empathy on steroids becomes sympathy, and if you work in customer service or sales and are sympathetic, then who is selling whom?

Speak “business friendly” – All I’m saying here is not to cross the line by getting too personal with callers to the point it becomes personally offensive. Most folks don’t want to be called “honey” or “sweetie” by a rep on the phone. Remain respectful and control your emotions without broaching the traditional human resource issues of religion, politics and sex. A conversation that dabbles in those areas can easily “cross the line”, so have a friendly conversation but stay on the business side of the fence.

Use the customer’s name – The sweetest sound in the world is hearing your own name spoken. Don’t use it in every sentence, but sprinkle it in liberally during your time on the phone with each customer. Although people love to hear their name, you would be wise to stick with Mr. or Ms. LAST NAME. Customers will lose respect for you if you get cute and start asking, “May I call you Bob?”

Sales Training BookBe energetic, helpful and take notes – We all have endured the monotone voice of the admin person answering the phone “under protest.” Since you know how that sounds, please don’t be that person. Perk up; put some zip in your voice, and provide some real help to your callers. Remember, they wouldn’t be calling if they didn’t require some real assistance. It’s not like they are lonesome and need a new friend!

And don’t forget to keep a pen and pad by your phone so you can make some notations of important facts. Remember how annoying it is when you are asked to repeat your reason for calling, due to the customer service rep not listening closely nor jotting down salient facts.

3. Your attitude should always be helpful:

Be interested in the caller – Your tone of voice either telegraphs concern and interest or indifference and unresponsiveness. A simple empathetic comment or question will help you gain the benefit of the doubt in the mind of the caller. A simple comment like “That happened to me once, or “Tell me a little about the person receiving this gift,” will help show you really care. Remember that everybody is walking around with an invisible flashing sign on their chest that says, “Make me feel special.”

Always offer more than the minimum – Callers are wired to intrinsically know if you are really trying to help, or if you are just giving lip service in order to put forth as little effort as possible so you can get off the line sooner. Try employing the Louisiana tradition of “lagniappe”, which means “a little bit more.”

Find the information the customer needs – When in conversation with a caller, be willing to go the extra mile and help find the info they require, rather than just telling them what it is. For example, “While I’m on the line with you let me Google that myself to see exactly what the manufacturer says about that issue, in case you have any further questions after we see what they say.” You will automatically gain a fan that will be more valuable than a LIKE on Facebook.

Never say “I can’t” – Don’t ever forget that the customer is always right (even when they’re wrong)! Therefore the last thing they want to hear is you telling them something, preceded by the word “can’t.” My grandpa always said, “Son, you need to weigh your words, because you might have to eat them.” So soften up the way you say things to callers in order to convince them you are their ally. For example, “Although the paperwork is pretty specific about this, we want every customer to be satisfied when they do business with us. So, with your permission, let me speak to the service manager and see if there is a work-around that can be done that will be agreeable to you, fair enough?”

These are just a few tips and ideas that will improve your customer service performance. Did you know Doug conducted inexpensive video call coaching sessions using Google Hangouts? Learn more about them here.

What are your thoughts about these customer service tips and techniques? Take a couple extra minutes and comment below in the Speak Your Mind area and share with other readers.

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