For several years back in the 2000’s, I worked as a customer service professional via telephone, and I have some customer service phone tips I think modern companies and CRM departments badly need. Once upon a time, we didn’t have lengthy phone trees, voice recognition software or heavy outsourcing to contend with. We simply had a main directory, a switch system, and actual human beings, such as myself, to talk to our customers and if possible, answer their questions and resolve their problems.
It was a simpler time. Modern technology and techniques employed with telephone CRM aim to speed up the process for customers and alleviate the workload for companies and CRM people, but frankly, it doesn’t accomplish this. So, here are my customer service phone tips for companies by and large, on how to make the experience far less horrendous for customers and what few human beings they actually put on phones to help these customers these days.
First and foremost, keep the phone directories and trees as simple as possible. I cannot count the times I have been led in circles by these systems, or had to sit through lengthy explanations and nonsense before being given a word to say or a button to dial to proceed. What should take less than a minute often winds up taking upwards of ten. Customers who have a reason to be calling into these systems are already likely to be unhappy or distraught, and this just intensifies it by making the rectification of problems itself an inconvenience on top of the problem in question. Design these systems so that they have the minimal amount of pre-recorded dialogue.
Furthermore, while voice recognition is an interesting technology and could one day reduce the limitations of choices available at any given menu … the technology isn’t remotely ready. When I received training for telephone CRM, there was a lot of emphasis on learning speech patterns and accents, of which there are many just within the United States alone. Computers lack this context logic, and seldom understand accents. Voice recognition software that works, used with computers for dictation, require hours upon hours of training with a specific user to learn their voice, accent and inflection. Designing a system that understands everyone just isn’t going to work. And, when it often asks multiple times for users to repeat what they said, they become increasingly frustrated.
Putting users on hold is unavoidable, and most users are fairly accepting of this, within reason. However, while on hold, choose wisely what plays over the speakers. Do not play looped series of advertisements or notices. This really drives people, myself included, up a wall. It feels like brainwashing, and when you really look at it, it kind of is. Avoid looping the same music or indistinct music (commonly called “elevator” music). I found, when I worked in the industry, that when we used classical music, this worked best. It is soothing, neutral but engaging and few users have ever complained about it burning their ears out while on hold.
These customer service phone tips all had to do with the system itself, but let’s talk a little bit about interacting with customers as well. I have to touch on a couple slightly sensitive subjects, but understand, they are part of the field.
Outsourcing is unavoidable these days, and that’s understandable. There aren’t enough people in my field to cover the needs of businesses within this country, so the extra people have to come from somewhere. However, if you aren’t a native English speaker bear the following in mind. First, English is a very difficult language, so if you master it, well done. However, until you have mastered it so that English speakers who have never heard your land’s accent can instantly understand you, you frankly aren’t ready to be an English language phone CRM person. Communication with clarity is absolutely key to handling phone customer service properly, and if the two people involved are combatting language and accent barriers, both will become unduly frustrated, and quickly. This isn’t meant to mean that non-English people cannot work in this field, I worked with many in my day who were excellent at the job, and encounter many who are excellent when I am a customer. However, I encounter many who are not as well, and when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work.
Names are another issue, both domestic and foreign alike. Be sure your supervisor knows this in advance in case they need to ID your conversation, but, if you have a slightly complex, unusual or long name, try to pick a shorter nickname. If customers didn’t catch your name, they will often be hesitant to ask for it again for fear of sounding stupid, or for fear of offending you. This happened to me on several occasions, and made things difficult when I needed to redirect them. Simple one to three syllable names seem to work best.
When conversing with customers, they will often try to cope with their frustration or duress via humor and may tell jokes or ramble a bit. Roll with it. If you seem friendly and informal, it will relax them, and help them to be less stressed. Express your personal sympathy in a non-pedantic manner, for their trouble. Like a friend who heard bad news, “oh, well that’s not good.” Avoid being formal and sounding practiced with things such as “we’re sorry you are experiencing trouble” etc. Because customers will think it’s insincere. And, it kind of is …
These are just a few things I would suggest. There are a ton of other things, and I could go on for a novel’s length really, but these are the key customer service phone tips I really think companies need to hear in 2013.
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