Delivering amazing customer support over phone

Customer Service is an underrated, but vital aspect of the success story of any business. So much so that if not done well, it can bring even the largest brands to their knees. Customer support is a subset of activities under the umbrella of customer service, which deals with addressing specific issues that customers face after they have purchased your company’s product. Nowadays there are several ways to answer customers’ queries, like Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and explainer videos. But the value of human interaction must not be underestimated. It’s natural for a person to want to talk to somebody about a problem rather than interact with a computer. Companies understand how important this is, and have customer support teams to provide this service. So why is it that talking to customer support is not on the list of “fun things to do” for most people? The answer to that has two parts; The first part is all about the process of getting the customer support executive (CSE) on the line. This usually involves patiently navigating through a complex Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, which ends with the caller being put on hold till the right CSE is available. The second part involves explaining the problem to the CSE, and following their instructions to solve it.

As a CSE, there is not much you can do to help a customer in their struggle to get to you. But once they are on the line with you, here are some tips that can help you give them a great experience over the rest of their call:

  1. Respond ASAP – Nobody likes to be put on hold, least of all a frustrated caller who’s having trouble with a product he paid for. The sooner you attend to the call, the easier the rest of your conversation will be.
  2. Sit straight and… smile! – Yes, even though the caller cannot see you. Studies have shown that the right posture can make you feel confident and positive, and smiling can psychologically predispose you towards having a pleasant conversation. This will take practice, so it would help to have a mirror in front of you, or at least a sticky note that can remind you!
  3. Engage with the customer – Focus on making the customer feel engaged while talking to you, so that they don’t feel like they are talking to a machine. Maybe you could start by asking them if you may address them by their names. You should also ask for and use the appropriate title, like “Mr.”, “Dr.”, “Mrs.”, “Miss”, etc.
  4. Be friendly, but professional – Restrict the conversation to the problem at hand as far as possible. A little banter to lighten the mood is alright, but make sure you steer the conversation back to the issue at hand. Be sensitive to any changes in the caller’s mood, and respond accordingly. Do not make them feel uncomfortable.
  5. Be an active listener – Acknowledge the caller when they speak to you. Use ‘fillers’ like “Mm-hmm”, “Okay” and “I understand” during pauses in the caller’s speech to show that you are paying attention. Since they cannot see your expressions, if you don’t actively participate in the conversation, it could make them wonder if they are getting through to you. Keep it natural though, don’t overdo it!
  6. Avoid Interrupting – Try not to interrupt when the caller is talking, especially if he/she sounds agitated. Wait for them to finish. Sometimes after a little venting, they might feel a little guilty when they realize that you’re not talking back, and this can make them calm down and listen to you more as the call progresses.
  7. Be patient – Try not to sound accusatory, even if it’s the caller who is at fault. Remember, they are the ones who paid for, and are using your product, and it’s your duty to provide them with any and all the assistance they need to keep using it, and spread the word about how awesome it is!
    Sometimes it may seem like a lot of callers are having the same or similar issues, and the solution may seem obvious to you, but keep in mind that to every caller, the issue will be just as perplexing as it was to the first one who called about it. Make it a point to consciously avoid any frustration or negativity from past calls from carrying over to the next.
  8. Use positive phrases – Try and use positive connotations of phrases as much as you can. For instance, instead of saying “Why don’t you check again?” you could say “Could you please check again?”.
  9. Summarize – Once you understand the caller’s problem, summarize the conversation you had with them to show that you were paying attention. This will help you gain their trust, and will make them more receptive to any suggestions you make afterwards.
  10. Keep it simple – Use simple words and phrases and avoid jargon & acronyms. Jargon will only make the caller more confused and/or defensive as the conversation progresses. Speak as you would to a layman with no prior experience with your product. This too, would take some practice, as you would be using a lot of technical terms while talking to your colleagues. Over time, it will become easier to modulate your conversation depending on who you’re talking to.
  11. Over-deliver – Don’t just do the bare minimum that is required of you. Be proactive so that the caller feels that you are genuinely trying to help him/her with their problem. This can go a long way in defining the company’s image in the caller’s mind, and you will very likely have created a spokesperson for your company by doing so!
  12. When in doubt, ask for help – Do not hesitate to transfer the caller to someone better suited to address the issue if needed, but ensure that you explain to the caller why you are doing so. You should also brief whoever you’re transferring the call to with the details of the problem, so that the caller doesn’t have to explain it to them all over again.

If you can give your callers a pleasant experience, they will in turn, reward you with their loyalty, and even help market your company by talking about their wonderful experience with their friends and acquaintances! It is a double-edged sword though. Give them a tough time and they will have only negative experiences to share, and sadly, negative experiences gain more traction than positive ones. According to author Pete Blackshaw, a satisfied customer tells at least three friends whereas an angry customer tells 3,000! So, make sure you follow the tips above and sooner than you know it, you’ll be able to handle even the most difficult customer.

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