You have probably experienced it. Chances are you had to make a call to one of the companies you buy from and were pleasantly surprised. Think back, what was the part that delighted you the most? Was the person on the other end of the line pleasant to deal with? What made the conversation good?
The tone of voice, inflection, phone presence, and even the smile in the person’s demeanor were important to you. They meant what you had to say and ask mattered a great deal. They indicated interest, and even skill – have you noticed that we tend to think of poised people as more credible?
My colleagues tell me that the words you use while on the phone with a customer are chosen carefully. To elicit a certain amount of information on the circumstances that led to the call is smart. It allows a service person to figure out how they can help you. A good customer service rep will know to tell you: “I can help you by transferring to this other person [insert name and title or area of responsibility here],” because they are listening and know who can help you within their organization.
The best customer service people reach out to you at a human level. They will hear what the customer is saying, and sometimes translate that into what the problem really is. A distressed customer may ask you to fix something that on the surface looks quite small. Yet an experienced service rep will know that is just a symptom.
The problem that leads to a call for a broken bag in a B2B setting may be really about the customer needing the sales manager to visit with them, or to switch transportation carriers, or out of synchronization fulfillment and inventory systems. Great customer service means partnering with your customers so that when a customer calls, they feel “we’re in this together.” And that allows you to fix the real problem, even when the caller may not be aware of what it is.
Does your organization support this kind of partnering? If someone came into your organization today and asked the people who work most with your customer service department, what would they say about them? What are the characteristics that make them service oriented? Can you list them?
There are a certain number of words, questions, and statements designed to establish a rapport with customers. Those can be taught. But people are people and especially under stress, they might slip up. They might forget to use the terminology that gets to the desired results. Or worse, they might just go ahead and use it inappropriately, revealing a strident mismatch to the customer’s distress.
For example, your customer may be calling irate to complain about an order not received, or not yet filled (to their knowledge). While it is wise to remain calm and receptive, a formal and cold response may not produce the desired effect. It might even make things worse. So it’s language and knowing how to time tone and empathy. Your customers can actually hear the eye roll.
If your organization engenders this kind of behavior, that will also be visible in your customer service department. No department operates in a vacuum. And customer service begins internally. Are you supporting your front line people?
Consistency of experience is one of the hallmarks of a good customer service and company brand. Does consistency come from manuals and training programs? It can and in many instances it does. But it is not the whole story. Every interaction with a person takes place in that exact instant in which it happens. At that very moment, your customer service reps need to decide how they are going to join the conversation.
The how part is key. And that is the part that takes us back to the organization and its brand. All the manuals in the world will not compensate for a culture lacking in service mindset. None of the best words to use will make up for missed opportunities on the respect and value scales. So back to our question: can you teach service? Yes, you can, by example.