In order to ensure that your call center customer service training has a real impact on your CSRs and truly delivers a return on your training investment, the first step is to decide which specific skills you need to emphasize in your training effort.
Many call centers make the mistake of focusing training efforts on such a broad range of skills that they ultimately dilute the impact of the customer service representative training.Of course CSRs must have effective training related to products, procedures, systems and processes. But in terms of skill development to create the most effective interactions with customers, here are the most critical skills to develop:
- Answering the telephone with a positive greeting.
- Maintaining a “professionally pleasant” personality, even on difficult calls.
- Asking questions to clarify customer needs and preferences.
- Avoiding “red flag” words and phrases that annoy customers.
- Presenting information and solutions in the customer’ language.
- Viewing complaints as an opportunity to strengthen the customer relationship.
- Taking full responsibility for the call.
1. Answering the telephone with a positive greeting
This is such an easy thing to do, it is amazing that so many CSR’s manage to start off their calls with a greeting that is less than ideal.
A simple approach to answering the call is all you need. It starts with an enthusiastic opening such as “Good morning…” or “Thank you for calling…” This is followed by the name of your organization or department, then the individual service representative’s name. And finally, an offer to help such as “How may I help you?” or “How may I direct your call?”
The complete greeting should sound something like this:
“Good morning, it’s a great day at the Pizza Factory, this is Annie! How may I help you?
“Good afternoon, thanks for calling the Appliance Barn, this is Joe! How may I direct your call?”
Note – The final offer to help (“How may I help you?”) may be spoken or implied by your customer-friendly tone. If it is clear from your tone that you are very pleased to be answering the telephone and interested in helping the customer, then the offer to help is clearly implied and your initial greeting can be something like: “Thank you for calling La Prienta, this is Armando!”
2. Maintaining a “professionally pleasant” personality, even on difficult calls.
It is somewhat difficult to describe the right type of friendly personality that is most effective on telephone calls, because it is a balance of friendly rapport building and professional courtesy. If a CSR is too friendly on the phone, it can seem unprofessional and the customer may feel that their time is being wasted by unnecessary chatter. But if the CSR is too business focused, it can create the impression that there is no genuine interest in or appreciation for the customer. The key to a “professionally pleasant” manner is to make sure your WORDS are mostly business-oriented and professional, and your TONE is friendly and personal. Keep the topic of conversation mostly professional, with a friendly and enthusiastic tone.
3. Asking questions to clarify customer needs and preferences.
Many customer service representatives do not enough ask enough questions to truly understand the customer’s needs. Or they don’t ask the RIGHT questions. Even if a CSR is certain that she fully understands the customer’s situation, asking at least one or two clarifying questions can help to ensure there is no misunderstanding. This also communicates something to the customer about the CSR’s attitude.
When the CSR asks questions and listens carefully to the answer, this shows the customer that the CSR is truly engaged in helping them. Here are a few general questions that can be useful in many situations:
“Can you tell me more about that?”
“What is MOST important to you about this?”
“What prompted you to be interested in this?”
One additional important point to make about asking questions is that the purpose of questions is not just to gather information. The other purpose, in fact probably the most important purpose, is to help the customer feel heard. Questions serve the customer by helping him feel listened to. So even if you have all the information you need, asking a question or two can still significantly enhance the customer’s perception of the service experience.
4. Avoiding “red flag” words and phrases that annoy customers.
Be very careful about avoiding words and phrases that can almost instantly cause a customer to become annoyed or frustrated. Usually these words are intended to let the customer know they will not be getting what they want, or that the CSR is not responsible for helping them. Here are the most annoying words and phrases to avoid: “Don’t” “Won’t” “We can’t do that.” “Can’t” “That’s our policy.” “I can’t help.” “That’s not my department.” “You’re too late.” “That’s not possible.”
These “red flag” phrases communicated to the customer that the CSR is not taking full responsibility for the call and is not trying to do everything they can to address the customer’s needs.
Even if is true that you cannot do exactly what the customer wants you to do, or the customer really has called the wrong department, your comments should still focus on what you CAN do for the customer. For example:
“While our systems limit my options, what I can do for you is…”
“Our policy is designed to help keep everyday prices as low as possible, by minimizing unwarranted returns, but what I can do for you is…”
“Unfortunately my department does not handle this, but I can transfer you to the proper person.”
5. Presenting information and solutions in the customer’s language.
Rather than always saying the same things in exactly the same (which a common habit most CSRs eventually develop) the very best customer service professionals listen attentively to hear the customer’s language: their words, phrases, tonality and pacing, and they communicate back to the customer using the same language. This is of course easier said than done.
Some customer service professionals seem to have a natural instinct for this, but with effective training and reinforcement, this is a skill that can be learned. Effective training to develop this skill requires extensive role playing and feedback from a coach who has a good ear for hearing the customer’s language. The role playing scenarios should provide the CSR with a variety of customer personalities and communication styles, then challenge the CSR to “mirror” those styles.
6. Viewing complaints as an opportunity to strengthen the customer relationship.
This is probably the most difficult “skill” any CSR can develop. It is true the customer’s can sometimes be unreasonable, and even hostile at times. And for customer service representatives it can be very frustrating to deal reasonably and politely with someone who is not being reasonable or polite. But it is important for CSRs to understand that this is part of the job. In their personal lives they can deal with rude people in any way that suits them, but in their professional lives there are certain standards they must always uphold.
Never raise your voice in anger. Never interrupt. Never hang up on a customer. Never insult or demean a customer. This does not mean that the CSR has to be a “door mat” to a rude customer. But if the customer really crosses the line – for example, by swearing at the CSR – the Customer Service Representative can politely and firmly say “Sir, that language is not acceptable. And if you continue to use that type of language I will not be able to help you.” And if the foul language continues, the customer should be transferred to a supervisor – courteously and professionally.
7. Taking full responsibility for the call.
This final capability is probably more of a mindset than a skill, but it is something that can be taught and learned. The very best telephone CSRs take full ownership of the customer experience. Even if they incorrectly receive a call that is meant for another department (such as technical support) they don’t just mindlessly transfer the call. They make sure the customer knows why they are being transferred and to whom. They “own” the call until someone else has clearly taken over.
If a customer is unhappy or frustrated, many CSRs will want to instinctively get the customer off of the phone as quickly as possible, or transfer the call to someone else just to get out of the uncomfortable situation. But the very best CSRs don’t avoid a tough customer, they take full responsibility for creating an exceptional experience for event he most difficult calls.