Handling Telephone Contacts for Great Customer Service
Today's customers do not always immediately walk into our store. We also need to provide great customer service over the telephone to those customers who prefer to communicate and transact in that way. While the principles are the same, how they are carried out is slightly different, and we will look at that in this article.
Increasingly, people find that the telephone, in that scenario, is a great way to do business. As well, there are plenty of other situations where the telephone is a primary way to conduct business. So it is essential in both the retail setting, known as business to customer (B2C), and in other settings, such as business to business (B2B), that an understanding of successful telephone service can be provided.
The telephone can sometimes be thought of as a necessary evil and an annoyance or interruption in one's day. However, it also provides two distinct benefits for businesses who use it wisely:
A phone is a way to contact customers where they are rather than having them come in. Customers feel more comfortable in this setting, which can open them up to further sales. It also keeps you at the top of their mind.
A phone is an efficient tool: You will spend less time doing the same work than you would if you were talking to them in person.
Here are some ways that you can provide great service on the telephone. Not all will apply to your industry or specific business, but they give you an idea of what can be done over the phone:
Greet prospects and uncover needs.
Follow up with customer satisfaction calls.
Perform warranty management.
Answer questions and remove objections.
Provide niche information, like public service announcements for your particular customer niche.
These can be incoming or outgoing calls, individual or pre-recorded. In each of these cases, the phone can be used with great success to help build your business and provide great customer service.
General service tips for the telephone: When calling, be sure to get the person's name and use it frequently. People love to hear their own names and it shows that you are paying attention to them. In person you may give other signals through body language to show that you are paying attention, but on the phone you do not have that option. Using the customer's name frequently is the best option.
Smile when you talk because people can hear the smile and they respond positively to it.
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Be sure to sit up straight to allow your lungs and diaphragm to breathe. This will give your voice a clearer, stronger sound.
Keep a binder of commonly requested information near the phone so that you do not have to look for it when someone calls; it is right at your fingertips. This might include the most recent catalogue, sales promotions, frequently requested telephone numbers, or Web site addresses.
Service and sales success tips for incoming calls: For people calling into your business, you should provide more than one number if possible. For example, a local and a toll-free number are ideal if you want to maximize your volume of calls.
Try to answer the phone in two rings. Psychologically, answering the phone in one ring seems that you have nothing better to do than to wait for the phone to ring, and often people are not prepared for the phone to be answered that soon. If the phone goes past three rings, people expect to get a voice mail message and can be surprised when you do answer. Although it is not always possible, two rings is the ideal time to answer the phone.
Be careful about what people hear when they first call. Is it a long, recorded phone gauntlet, in which they have to press 1 for one department and press 2 for another department? Some of these are simple and clear, but other times they are too difficult to maneuver, such as when the only option is to spell out the name of the person you want to talk to. What if you do not know whom to talk to or you cannot spell that person's name? Phone directories of this type can be effective but also sometimes frustrating for customers. Be sure to create good, clear, general options on the phone, and always provide an option to speak to a real, live person during business hours. The more personal you want your business to feel, the less you will want to use these phone directories.
Another solid success tip to know is when your company does not use a phone gauntlet but rather has someone answering the phone. Everyone who answers that phone should answer in the same way, even if they are answering the phone in an extension buried deep within the company. That way, if the extension is dialed by accident, the person calling and getting this individual by accident will still know what company they are calling. One good example would be, "XYZ, Inc. John Smith speaking. How may I help you?"
When times are busy, the phone seems to be ringing non-stop, and several in-person customers are vying for your attention, what do you do with the phone? A constantly ringing phone can be an annoyance for your in-store customers because it is loud and takes away your attention. At the same time, when someone is calling, they have a reasonable expectation to have their call answered and responded to. So, if it is possible in your business, avoid having a telephone at the front counter where customers are and allow your sales staff to just deal with in-store customers. Hire someone else to answer the telephone. If that is not possible, consider turning the telephone down or off when a customer is in the store.
When the phone is answered during a busy period, it is best not to answer the phone in this way: "XYZ, Inc., please hold." If that is how you have to answer the phone, it is better to let it go to voice mail and get the message later.
Voice mail can be a powerful tool if used effectively. Create a strong, dynamic message and keep it consistent throughout your company. Give a time frame in which people can expect to receive a call back and live up to that time frame. Also, consider including your uniform resource locator (URL) address in your voice mail message so that people can go to your Web site. They may opt to do that and have their questions answered rather than leave a message.
Service and sales success tips for outgoing calls: The best telephone tip to make sure you provide the best service is to prepare for every call. The best way to do this is to think of a single point that you want to make. Do you:
want your customer to be informed?
want your customer to call you back?
want your customer to come into the store and buy from you?
Think about which of the points above or similar ones you want to achieve. Make sure each call has one and only one. Then prepare the information for that call for just that message. It is too easy for people to just dump all of the information they think is appropriate onto their customers. Unfortunately, when they hang up, the customer thinks, "That was good, but what do I do now?" Having a single point will help solve that problem.
When dialing out, be sure that you are prepared for a voice mail if you get it. Nothing sounds so unprofessional as someone who is caught off guard by a voice mail message. Here's what to do when you get a voice mail message:
Give your name.
Give your company name.
Give your number.
State the reason that you are calling.
Tell them what you would like them to do, such as call you back, etc.
Restate your name.
Restate your company name.
Restate your number.
Using the phone to measure customer service: One popular method of telephone use lately is to measure customer service. This can be a great way to discover how your customers feel about you, but it can also backfire on you.
Companies either hire out a third party company or do the phoning themselves. They call customers who had previously purchased something and ask them questions to see whether or not they are completely satisfied.
Unfortunately, customers can sometimes view these calls as an annoyance if they are too long or happen too far in the distant future from the purchase. As well, the smaller the purchase, the greater chance there is that they could view the call as an annoyance.
It is still an effective way to measure customer service. However, to do a good job, call the customer within a week from the time the purchase was made and do not ask more than three questions. Have at least one question be a quick scale question, such as,"On a scale from 1 to 5, how would you rate ... ? " and use a simple scale, such as 1 is unsatisfied and 5 is satisfied.
Always take these telephone customer service measurements with a grain of salt because:
customers sometimes confuse these calls with telemarketing calls and can become upset.
some customers believe there is no reason to give a perfect score because they would not have been fully satisfied unless the product was free.
some customers prefer to transact business and not be hassled by follow-up calls.
Still this type of customer service follow-up can be a powerful technique.
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