Customer service can make or break your business, plain and simple. Often, the ability of a customer to reach your company or service in person, or by telephone, can encourage repeat business and positive feedback, or bad word-of-mouth that can literally destroy your business before you've even gotten started.
Call center agents have a big responsibility, and as such, business owners, managers, and partners should choose only the best individuals to perform customer service functions. Regardless of your business, field, or industry, customer service is essential.
Without customers, you don't have a business.
You can spend a fortune on marketing, promotion, and training, but if your call center agents don't provide quality services and communication, you'll be in trouble.
Most of us have had at least one experience with a telephone-based call center agent or customer service representative. Oh, the stories we could tell! One bad or negative experience may have been the deciding factor in whether you dealt with that company or service in the future. After all, if you can't get a straight answer, resolve a complaint, or get the follow-up service you need, you're just as likely to walk away and find a different company or business to fill your needs next time.
That's why customer-centric services are so important. Customer-centric services, in a nutshell, focus attention, service, and satisfaction on, or for, the client, not the provider. Many businesses today, small and large, rely on call centers to engage in day-to-day communication with clients, provide technical and customer support, and handle customer complaints. From major television cable and satellite networks to major airlines, call centers have become the norm in today's business environment. Call center services are found in multitudes of industries today, from telecommunications, to travel, to retail and financial.
Today, many companies contract out their customer service and sales representatives to independent providers, and even outsource their call center agents to foreign countries. Regardless, each and every telephone contact made between a business call center or telephone service representative, and clients, should be positive. If not, they may never contact or deal with your company again.
First impressions do count! The quality and attention to detail those call center agents give to clients over the phone leads to repeat clients and referrals.
What, exactly, is customer-centric service? Do you remember what you just read? Customer-centric service is defined as service that is focused on the customer. How do your customer service representatives go about providing customer-centric service? Start by:
- Encouraging and teaching your customer service representatives to know your customers and what they want
- Creating customer-focused processes around your customers' needs
- Staying on top of customer feedback, especially in regard to call center services
Customer service can be broken down into a simple definition: the act or process of satisfying a customer in relation to a particular service or product. It means addressing their concerns, questions, or issues with understanding, compassion, and efficiency. This is the foundation of a customer-centric service, where business literally revolves around the customer. Always place the customer first to create a positive, loyal, and repeat customer or client.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that in order to be customer-centric, you suddenly turn into a doormat.That's not what we mean to imply. You'll need to make decisions based on company policy and so forth, but by letting the client know that you do respect their point of view, and strive to ensure that the customer's opinion is valued, you're more likely to leave the customer more satisfied, even if they have not achieved the result they were looking for.
By taking the time to listen and to respond to their concerns calmly and reasonably, even if you can't help them, they know they've made that very important human contact with a person on the other end of the line, and not merely an "automaton" droning on about company policy.
Responsibilities of call center agents and telephone-based customer service representatives, and any other customer representative for that matter, are to promote customer business relationships on the front lines.
Basic job functions and responsibilities of a CSR include:
- Taking customer orders
- Solving customer problems
- Resolving complaints
- Answering questions
Additional responsibilities of a customer service representative include:
- Your ability to respond positively to a customer's issues or concerns -- This means providing solutions to problems in an efficient and timely manner.
- Your ability to encourage relationships -- As a call center agent or customer service representative, you are literally the voice/face of a business. Your main job is to provide courteous and friendly service, and be considerate and respectful, no matter how the person on the other end of the line is reacting.
- Sensitivity to the concerns, issues or needs of a customer
- Tolerance - It's not easy to deal with people all the time. That's why it's so important to always be respectful and treat the people on the other end of the line with fairness and equality. Objectivity is key in tolerating different opinions, points of view, and approaches to problems.
- Your ability to solve problems -- Keep in mind that most people don't even contact a service representative or call center unless they already have some type of issue, question, or problem. A call center agent must capably deal with a variety of requests and demands from customers, and find positive and business-friendly solutions to those problems.
Most of all, customer service representatives - on the phone and off - must maintain a positive and optimistic demeanor. It can be stressful working with complaints from customers on a daily basis.Your ability to cope and deal with such stress requires resilience.
Did you know that most people form a first impression of someone else (whether through face-to-face contact or over the phone) within one minute? That's why it's so important that call service representatives promote positive communication with clients. Each and every call center agent, customer service representative or employee represents the company or business for whom he or she works. This is a huge responsibility for customer telephone service personnel.
Because a call center agent, or telephone-based customer service representative, is literally the voice of the company, and can leave either very good or very poor impressions upon contact with the customer, it's extremely important for customer service reps (CSRs) to know and understand proper telephone etiquette.
Telephone etiquette is the foundation of telephone service in any business, whether you're the CEO or a call center agent. Your tone of voice, your choice of words, and how you say those words can make a good or bad impression about the company for the person at the other end of the phone line.
The manner in which such a call center agent responds to comments, questions, or issues through telephone communication is vital for promoting trust, building relationships and creating a positive experience for the customer.
Telephone Etiquette Dos and Don'ts
Chances are, you have engaged in telephone-based customer service at one time or another. What annoyed you about it? Were you kept on hold too long? Were you able to understand the customer service representative? Did it sound like the person was chewing gum or eating something? Each of these issues can leave a very bad impression on the customer.
Here are a few tips for promoting effective telephone communication:
- Answer the phone properly and clearly. State the company's name, your name, and an offer to help. For example, "ABC Services customer service, this is Jackie. How may I help you?"
- Speak slowly and enunciate so the person on the other end of the line can understand you.
- Be approachable, pleasant and friendly.
- Use plain, simple language when responding to a client or customer's questions or issues.
- Maintain a calm and friendly demeanor, even if the person on the other end of the line is yelling, cursing, or impolite.
- Ensure the customer that you are listening, and understand their issue, by repeating it back to them. Let them know what type of action you'll take to help resolve their issue, question, or concern.
- Avoid placing a caller on hold longer than 30 to 45 seconds. Before placing a caller on hold, ask their permission to do so. If it's taking you longer than you thought to resolve the issue or question, or to look up information on a computer, check back with the customer frequently and explain why it's taking longer than you thought. Again, ask them for their permission to place them on hold, or ask them if they would prefer you to call them back.
It isn't always easy to maintain a calm demeanor when talking to an irrational caller on the other end of the line. Sometimes, it takes all your willpower not to hang up on them, because they're so rude. However, always remember that you must maintain a professional persona at all times. One poor experience with customer service caused by your inadequate or mean-tempered response can cost the business in lost revenue.
Whenever possible, maintain a positive and enthusiastic tone of voice. Your voice is the most important part of telephone communication and serves as the best avenue of communication between you and the client. Listen to how the person talks and match your speech and volume (not yelling) to the person on the other end of the line.
Do you know what you sound like when talking on the phone? If you don't, try tape-recording your voice or a voice message on your cell phone and play it back. Believe it or not, your tone of voice is very capable of expressing your emotions. Your tone of voice can sound cheerful, angry, or sad, and even convey a lack of concern toward the client.
Do you sound phony or do you choose and express words or phrases that show you really care? Don't patronize your customers, but try to convey understanding, compassion and sympathy, even if you feel their complaints, anger, or issues are unfounded.
How do you do this? First of all, never raise your voice. Try to keep your mode of speech consistent, and that includes your tempo. Try to sound positive and optimistic throughout the phone call, conveying a sense of energy, enthusiasm, and concern for the customer, without making it sound like you're a cheerleader.
Many call service agents are encouraged to "talk with a smile." Have you ever answered the phone smiling? Chances are you have, but just don't remember it. Yes, it's hard to talk with a smile on your face, but with practice, you can do it. Believe it or not, your customers, or listeners on the other end, will definitely notice a difference.
Answer telephone calls on the first or second ring, whenever possible. When a customer has a question, comment, or problem, the last thing they want to do is listen to the phone ring multiple times. This causes the customer to question whether you seriously care about their problems.
Answer the phone properly, clearly, and slowly, stating the company's name, your name, and an offer to help. For example, remember, "ABC Services customer service, this is Jackie. How may I help you?"
Surely, you have, yourself, called a customer service representative, only to be answered by an individual who talks so quickly, mumbles, or mutters their name and/or identification number that you have to ask them to repeat the information. This can be extremely frustrating to customers who try to take notes or write down information that you supply.
Many call service centers are crowded and busy environments. Call center agents also work independently from home-based environments. In every scenario, limit background noises as much as possible. There's nothing quite worse than answering a telephone call while children are screaming or playing in the background, a dog is barking, or the next-door neighbor's lawn mower makes understanding the person on the other end of line nearly impossible.
When answering incoming calls, treat each and every call as if it's the first one you've received all day, even if it's the hundredth. As a call service representative, you're likely to answer the same question dozens - if not hundreds - of times. It's your job to be helpful and friendly, not to treat the customer as if they're stupid, just because you know the answer.
When answering calls, make sure to get the caller's name and use their name as frequently as possible. Take notes during the call and let the caller know that you're staying on top of the conversation. Repeat the caller's question, issue, or concern back to them to make sure that you've understood it clearly.
In some cases, you may need to gently guide the caller to answer more questions in order to gain greater understanding of the issue at hand. Use closed-end questions that demand a simple yes or no answer. This helps you focus on specific details. Open- ended questionscan be used to gain broader details regarding an issue or complaint. Each type of question helps you understand the problem quickly, which results in prompt and effective solutions.
If, for any reason, you don't have the answer to a question, problem or issue, let the customer know that you'll do your best to find out. Whether you have to transfer that person to another individual, or you need to call them back later, let them know what you're doing. Be honest. Let them know that you don't have the answer at that time, but that you will research it and get back to them. Follow up on your promise.
One of the essential responsibilities of a customer service representative job, and most especially for a call center agent, is it your ability to communicate.