Why do we all dread having to call customer service when we have a problem? Because we always have to wait and/or are always given a hard time right? To be nice, helpful and polite is a simple thing really, and we all know customer service is important yet we deal with irate, improperly equipped and rude customer service agents on the phone every day. I guess the old saying "The customer is always right" has been forgotten. Some will disagree with this saying (more on that later) - and we know all customers aren't ALWAYS right but we only have to make then think they are to stay ahead of the game. Think about this - The cost to keep an existing customer is SIGNIFICANTLY less than it is to acquire a new customer so making sure your customer service department is tip top should be a priority!
No matter what business your in, there are always going to be problems. It's inevitable. Dealing with problems in the appropriate way is nearly like having a great marketing campaign or a killer deal. If people are satisfied at the end of their call they are surely going to do business with you again and most likely forgot about the problem they had in the first place. However, if their customer service experience is a bad one, then forget about seeing or hearing from them again. They will also tell all their friends how horrible it was to deal with your company. Bad word of mouth is the last thing you want for your business.
Whether you have a large customer service department, or just one person, inbound or outbound, follow along as we go through many different ways to build a top notch customer service program! Being a customer service agent is certainly no easy task. Dedication, patience, a good attitude and the checklist below will surely help make the day go quicker! NOTE: Here we are focusing on inbound customer service calls but most of the things you will read below certainly apply to outbound or up selling forms of customer service as well.
- Before our agents take any calls they have to be equipped with
the proper tools. These might sound silly but how many of us have
dealt with an agent fumbling around on the other end of the phone?
I know I have...
- At least 2 pens
- A full pad of paper
- A highlighter
- An internal phone directory with most popular numbers highlighted
- A properly adjusted headset and working microphone. (a few minutes should be taken to make sure everyone is comfortable and all equipment is functioning properly)
- Product catalogs or brochures
- A list of all current deals, discounts, sales or special offers
- A computer with all special screens and/or interfaces up and ready to go - AND the ability to quickly switch between these screens. (PC users can use the Alt-Tab function to switch between open programs or Ctrl-Tab to switch between documents in the same program)
- A glass of water
- Box of tissues
- Patience :-)
- We want to make sure all agents are properly trained and knowledgeable on the products and services we offer. They should be familiar with all current brochures, catalogs and web offerings in addition to knowing about sizing, colors and prices. In house training can be easily coordinated with the marketing department for each new campaign or product/service offered. A little time before each new campaign is surely worth the cost in the long run.
- Scripting is mostly used for outbound or telemarketing agencies and not so much for inbound customer service folks handling customer problems. And I know we ALL HATE when the person on the other end of the phone is clearly reading something. However, it's not to say we can't have a script for certain reoccurring things, we just need to make it sound like it's not scripted! As such, a script should just be a guideline for what needs to be said. A knowledge of the script is certainly a must but ad-libbing should definitely be encouraged.
- We'll want to have reasonable hours of service - usually past 5pm since most people don't get home from work until after that. Not being available when convenient to the customer will just make things worse IE - grumpier angrier callers.
- A manager should be on hand at all times too for more difficult cases.
- Make sure each call is answered in a friendly professional manner. Usually starting with the company name, the agents name and then "How can I help you?". This will set the stage for the rest of the call. If your company needs to disclose an agent number you can substitute this for the agents name or simply add it after. Of course this is just a greeting guideline so modify according to your customer service policies. For example: "Good morning Bald Guy Designs my name is Mike agent #026 how can I help you?"
Listen, Listen, Listen:
- One of the most important things a customer service agent can do is listen. If you don't listen to them you will never know the issue at hand; and this will cause even MORE problems. Take notes if you have to. Once you've listened, feel free to ask questions to gain as much information as possible in order to be of greater help. Don't interrupt and make sure to keep your cool no matter what. If it's cut and dry, handle it as necessary...
Reacting and Solving the Problem:
- Before an agent attempts to solve the problem, they should repeat it so the person on the other end knows they've listened. If the issue isn't exactly understood, kindly ask them to please repeat the problem they are having, or ask the appropriate questions to figure things out. Once the problem has been clearly identified, let the customer briefly know what you are going to do next. Don't just stay quiet or put them on hold because they will be confused and probably get annoyed. If it's a computer issue or something that can be handled quickly, let them know their account is being adjusted. If further internal assistance is required, an agent shouldn't just yell across the room or to the next cubicle - this is rude and unprofessional. They should kindly let the person on the phone know they will be put on hold in order to speak to a manager (or something like that). Once back on the phone, the agent should briefly let them know what they are going to do (or have done) to help them. 99% of the time the problem can be solved.
Additional problem solving tips:
- If it's not such a cut and dry situation ask the customer what it will take to make them happy or offer a suggestion to start things off. It's not unusual to have some friendly negotiations before settling on something that makes everyone happy.
- As such, an agent should be equipped with special offers for problem situations. Sometimes it takes a free sample, a discount, free shipping or a second item to make people happy. This is a small price to pay for a happy customer. Again, this can be offered up by the agent if things aren't going so well. Of course we don't want to offer every person that calls in a free sample so these techniques should only be used for a more difficult situation.
- Offering personal service is another technique to make people feel they are being taken care of. What I mean is to offer them your phone extension or a tip to get through the phone system quicker in case another issue arises. If it's handled correctly this time there shouldn't be any other issues. Use your discretion here but rarely do people constantly call back.
What if the customer is super rude, threatening and/or using profanity?
- There are rare instances in which the customer is so irate it feels impossible to even deal with the situation. However, we have to try. Always keep your cool, don't interrupt, LISTEN, and of course let them finish. They are just venting it has nothing to do with you...don't take it personal. Always stay positive and let them know you will do everything you can to make them happy.
- Profanity, yelling and threats are not to be tolerated. If the conversation gets this out of control simply let them know that you won't be able to help them if they continue to use that sort of language. Also, let them know if they do continue to speak this way, you are instructed to hang up. Don't hesitate to hang up - often times after you hang up they will realize what they did, call back and apologize. At this point things should proceed smoothly.
- As a last resort, you can always transfer the call to the "customer from hell" expert agent. Some agents naturally excel at handling stressful situations, so hand it over. If no such person exists a manager is the next best thing.
What if the situation just can't be resolved:
- If compromising, special offers, personal service, managers and a calm cool attitude aren't enough to make someone happy there isn't much more we can do and most likely nothing else we'd try to do would even be worth making them right. We know we've done our best, we've gone above and beyond our call of duty it's now time to move on and "fire" this customer. What does this mean? It means we are to the point that we don't want to do business with them anymore. Don't be rude, don't treat them like they are "wrong" just be straightforward and decline to do business with them anymore. Offer to cancel their account, remove them from the mailing list or suggest a competitive product. It's a harsh reality for them but it's something that's got to be done. It's harsh for us too because I guess every customer isn't ALWAYS right.
- Don't let this call ruin the next call OR your whole day. Remember, out of sight, out of mind.
- No matter the outcome, make sure to thank the person on the other end of the phone. This puts one last positive thought in their mind before they hang up. Additionally, any and all customer feedback is an excellent source of quality control and a great way to continually improve your products and services so why not give thanks?
- There are also things we can do while NOT on the phone to not only better our customer service department, but our marketing and IT departments too. These sorts of things are key to an overall smooth business operation.
- Regular customer service meetings and call monitoring are a must. If several agents are experiencing similar problems, meetings like this will expose these overlaps so the issue can be passed along to the appropriate department. Nothing formal just a recap of everyone's day (or week or session). Company wide monitoring sessions can also inform other departments about what is going on and how things are handled. These sorts of things are ESPECIALLY important to the marketing and creative folks.
- Meetings can also initiate new procedures, scripting or a new way to handle a particular problem. Don't hesitate to share your ideas or talk about how you handled a specific call...this sort of feedback is beneficial to everyone.
- Incentives are usually used for outbound CS, telemarketing or up selling. However, if there is a particular problem your company faces each day, try an incentive for the agent who has the least amount of cancels or gives away the least amount of freebies. Think things through and talk to your team about it so everything is fair.
- Feedback, feedback, feedback. As mentioned above problems should be passed along to the appropriate department so they can be fixed. You might be a pro at taking care of a particular issue on the phone, but if it shouldn't be happening in the first place we need to have it taken care of. Even minor issues shouldn't be taken lightly. It's worth a little investigating time by other departments to make sure everything is running smooth.
In conclusion, fact is we ARE going to be able to solve 99% of the issues we'd come across in a civilized manner with only the occasional customer from hell; so overall no worries...
Taking the necessary steps above will insure you are doing everything you possible can to keep customers coming back from more...that is, after all, what it's all about right?
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