Best Practices for Telephone Support

“Customer Service is everything and anything that touches a customer – directly or indirectly. Customer service means servicing customers and it’s so much more than just solving problems or addressing complaints. Customer service is part of a holistic customer experience that is capable of providing a critical competitive advantage in today’s increasingly cluttered and commoditized marketplace.”Joseph Jaffe

It is clear from the quote that customers are completely in command over the kind of service they expect companies to provide. In this age of ‘fast’, communication, service and response from companies must also be at a dizzy pace if they are to be effective and impress customers. For any company, gaining a customer is only first part of a hopefully long journey with the customer – keeping the customer is the really big and tough part of this journey, which is possible through consistent and good customer service. Within this realm, we will speak about the best practices for telephone support – research indicates that at least 68% of all communication with contact centres is via the phone. Despite social media communication grabbing the attention as the future of providing service, ignoring telephone support is unwise, as it is still the top medium of communication given that it is easier for customers to approach telephone support than make the effort to ‘search’ for a brand / company through social media or even browse through the website.  Providing top-notch customer service by using the best practices for telephone support could add to the value of your company, attract more customers and turn existing customers to loyal ones.

Providing awesome telephone support to customers should be the onus of each person in the company, just like every other aspect of customer service. In order to standardize this part of service, a telephone support policy must be part of the overall strategy of the company and each person must comply. Of course, the front-end staff must be most proficient in providing telephone support. This would mean that the company invests in training and coaching them, ensures that they always have updated knowledge, completely understand the company’s policies and products and are experienced enough to handle the wide range of complex and tough customer service interactions on a daily basis. To provide the best possible telephone support, they must understand the principles of phone etiquette, handling of tough customers and the best ways to establish a rapport and build relationships with their customers.

As customers, we expect that the companies we do business with are available for us whenever we need them. For companies this translates to providing round the clock telephone support and other 24×7 support such that customers do not need to wait to have their issues resolved. Given that, telephone support is the most personal and live interaction, it would be crucial for the staff to remain courteous, empathetic and attentive to their customers. It is very easy for customers to perceive irritation and unwillingness to help on the part of the service representatives via the telephone. There is no doubt that providing consistently high standards in telephone support is a tough call but it is a demand and expectation of customers and non-compliance would spell disaster for a company.

As part of the best practices for telephone support, timing is crucial. Customers expect almost immediate responses and resolutions for their problems – the reason that they take the trouble to call a company. A highly efficient, skilled and trained set of customer service representatives would be required to make each customer interaction timely and effective. Doing so consistently would lead to higher levels of customer satisfaction, which in turn would lead to more business and an enhanced reputation for the company. The basic premise of providing telephone support is that it must fast, efficient and lead to some responses for the customers instantly.

Another aspect of providing top class telephone support is not to keep customers waiting – this begins by ensuring that a phone should not ring more than twice. This is a standard in the best practices for telephone support. We are not speaking about a contact centre but for an organization as a whole. The company must ensure that there is always someone to operate the front desk phone and also within the office, the phone on desks must be answered promptly. If a person is not at their desk, the phone should be put on the voice answering mechanism such that the caller does not feel ignored. The telephone answering policy must dictate that when a phone rings, it must be answered.

Among the best practices for telephone support for the customer service staff, the most clichéd yet ignored practice is smiling when answering the phone. It is true – a smile can be ‘seen’ even through the phone, just as easily as annoyance and irritation. If a telephone support representative were happy serving customers, the pleasure would reflect through even through the greeting upon answering the phone and calming even the most irate customer. A pleasant greeting is another important aspect of telephone support. It is the first verbal expression from the customer service representative, setting the tone for the remainder of the conversation with the customer and the decisive factor on whether the customer’s experience is happy or far from satisfactory.

When customers take the time and effort to connect, they would have a reason and choosing to connect through the most direct channel would have a purpose too. Therefore as part of effective telephone support, the customer service representatives should have received training to listen actively. This means listening beyond the words of the customer – to the tone, pitch and pace of conversation, which would enable the representatives to fathom the root cause of a customer’s ire and dissatisfaction. Providing great telephone support is about allowing customers to vent and completely explain their problem without interruption – most often an irate customer would calm down when allowed to vent. Post listening to the customer’s problem, the next of the best practices for telephone support would be to apologize to the customer for the inconvenience – the apology must sound genuine and not rote and affected. It is easy for a disgruntled customer to become irate if they perceive that the customer service representatives do not care or are not genuinely listening. The second part of listening actively is to take responsibility of the problem conveyed by the customer. The problem may be beyond the scope of the customer service representative’s authority, but it would still be their responsibility to see that the customer’s problem is resolved and the same conveyed to the customer.

Even as a customer, possibly the most frustrating thing about calling telephone support is the endless ‘holding’. Being ‘put on hold’ repeatedly or for a long time is extremely frustrating and research has proved that most customers would hang up post holding for even a minute. If the problem cannot be resolved immediately, the customer must know by when the problem would be resolved and if it requires a call back from the company. If a call back is required, it must be the responsibility of the customer service representative to ensure that the customer does receive a call within the timeline promised.

There are a number of expectations from customers, and companies strive to put best practices in place to provide great service. The best practices mentioned for telephone support will pave the way for a company to provide such service enabling it to move forward towards sustainable success.

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