Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Phone Etiquette and Customer Service

I mentioned in a previous post that I got complimented on how I sound on the phone the other day.  Well, it happened again today…no surprise, with the same customer.  I guess there’s more to it than just the voice.

She had been following up on an order she placed, but for some reason, we had difficulty reaching her line.  So at that point she decided to give our office a call and I am glad that I was the one who picked up the phone.  I had my usual pleasant self answer the call and after a few minutes I was able to end the call with a pleased customer on the other end.  I relayed the information to the rep handling the account and then, after a few minutes, placed a call to the customer.  I asked if the rep was able to get in touch with her and she said yes.  She was surprised that I actually called just to check.  I think surprising the customer with good service, even if just on the phone, goes a long way in preserving a good and profitable relationship.

I also try to exert the same pleasantness in handling complaints over the phone.  A great example is an inquiry I recently handled.   I spoke with a customer who was really lost on how to use the product and then he started complaining about the product aggressively.  Of course, I had to listen to his every word and I am glad I was very patient with him.  I was able to squeeze in an opportunity to explain the situation to him and offer him a number of options, including a visit from a technical support man.  At that point, his initial hostility had died down.  I guess he felt that there was really someone going to help him and not just dodge his complaint.  After our support guy’s visit, they were able to trace the problem and we were able to map out a different solution for him.  I have not heard from the customer ever since I followed up on the solution we did.  The last time we spoke, he was already convinced that our product worked to solve his problem.

So, how does one defuse hostility when one is not in a face-to-face situation?  In a way, I always try to smile before I answer the phone.  Customer contact should always be dealt with in the most calm and cool manner possible, even when you’re firing them.  There’s no point in arguing with a customer when you know you’ll make him or her look stupid or dumb.  Remember: you may win the argument but eventually ruin the relationship.

In my opinion, the key points will always be the following:

  1. Don’t assume that the customer will agree with you right away.  If they were all Yes-men, our sales reps will all be out of jobs.  Some will disagree just for the sake of disagreeing.
  2. Never argue with the customer.
  3. Never make them look stupid.  Suggest a solution.
  4. Be nice.  It’s easier.
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