Building Customer Rapport over the Phone

“Service, in short, is not what you do, but who you are. It is a way of living that you need to bring to everything you do, if you are to bring it to your customer interactions” Betsy Sanders

To become and remain successful, every company requires customers who are loyal, profitable, and enthusiastic about the association. These form the foundation of any successful business relationship. However, to attain this level of comfort with customers, building customer rapport is extremely crucial. Losing customers is possibly one of the worst situations a company faces and no one would like to be in that position. In order to retain them and survive in a highly competitive business environment, building customer rapport with the idea of understanding them would be highly beneficial. Many companies that offer customer support do so through their customer support centres and hence they would need to focus on building customer rapport over the phone.

Building rapport is not as easy over the phone as it is in face-to-face interactions. In direct interactions, a person is able to use a combination of verbal and non-verbal communication (such as body language, expressions, and hand movements) to convey a message. The non-verbal signs communicate as much, if not more, and let the recipient know about intentions and feelings of the speaker. When company representatives interact with customers in this manner, such as sales persons, the ability to convince and build affinity is not that difficult. However, building customer rapport over the phone is a lot harder since the speaker must rely solely on their voice – tone, pitch, words, and speed of speaking – to convey interest and show the customer that the company truly cares. A poorly handled phone call, for whatever reason, could push a customer away for good, whereas a successful phone conversation could ensure that the customer becomes more amenable to knowing more. Among the things that customer service representatives are trained on, the top two aspects seem to be ‘remember to smile’ and manage the various aspects of one’s voice. What are the top things to remember then, when building customer rapport over the phone?

Customers usually make the effort to call when they have an issue or they need information and no customer would like to feel that their problem is a usual one. Customer service representatives must understand that for a customer is unique and hence would like it to be addressed as such. By using words of assurance and may be even personal experiences, service representatives would be able to put the customer at ease and begin to build a rapport with her / him.

There would be times when a customer calls in a highly excitable or agitated state since their situation could be urgent in their view. The service representative should convey a sense of urgency to match their demeanour while remaining calm and confident in their approach. The customer would feel relaxed and would calm down, in the knowledge that the person on the other side of phone not only understands their situation but is well equipped to handle it too. Building customer rapport even via a phone call is not that hard when customers get what they want.

When customers are annoyed with a company the reason they call is to vent. They expect that the person on the phone and representing the company, will allow them to let out all their ire without interruption. When the representative is able to do so, it lends a feeling of comfort and dependability, allowing the customer to calm down while the representative gets the time to think of an appropriate response and may be a solution. A company that come across as dependable find that it is easier to build a rapport with customers. Of course, it is important that the service representatives repeat their understanding of what the customer said to ensure no ambiguity remains and to reassure the customer that they were indeed paying attention.

It is always a good idea to ask the name and details of the customer – this allows the representative to look up the customer history and speak with the customer in a more personalized manner. Being referred to by name and having to repeat details of their association with the company, are two of the top reasons that customers are open to building a rapport with the company. In addition, this also reflects well on the company and displays its commitment to see the customer’s problem as its own. One of the basic tenets of customer service is to view the situation from the customer’s perspective – at all times. By doing so, a company would be better equipped to show empathy and genuine concern for the customer and their needs, paving the way for a long-term rapport.

When customers call with a problem, they will usually place blame with the company. Even if the company is not in the wrong, it is prudent to apologise to the customer and express concern at their distress. Through this open approach, customers find it easier to let go of their ire and become more amenable to listening to the service representative and building a rapport with them. We are not suggesting that this is easy to do – however, it is essential for relationship building and offering top class customer service. It is important also to remember, that irrespective of the number of times the representatives may have heard similar issues, they cannot rush in to providing solutions. They must focus on building customer rapport and then seek to serve solutions.

As mentioned earlier, a smiling service representative will sound more cheerful and helpful. A smile can be ‘seen’ even through the phone, as it is reflected in the voice. By smiling, a service representative would be able to keep calm and in control, allowing increased avenues to build rapport and please the customer. A smile can ‘show’ the customer through the phone that your company knows how to serve customers, irrespective of the situation and really listen to their customers with the aim of resolving the issue.

Whatever the situation and problem – every customer, irrespective of the size of their business, deserves respect in all situations. When speaking to customers over the phone, remember that since they cannot see the service representative, their perceptions about the representative would be based around other factors. Factors like a pleasant tone, calm and composed voice, knowledge of the company and its products, ability to listen and understand, and the ability to respond appropriately, would help in building customer rapport and a long-term relationship.

Of course, angry and irate customers may not be open to building a rapport. For them their top priority would be to let someone know what has upset them and to know who, when, and how the problem will be fixed. It is imperative for customer service representatives to know that while building customer rapport is critical, the timing and customer they are dealing with take precedence. The fact is that customers expect to be treated well and when they are, they reciprocate by providing repeat business and encouraging others to explore business possibilities with the company. Even over the phone, customers can pick up signs of apathy, rudeness, smugness, and sheer lack of attention and this can have detrimental results for any company. With practice, every customer service representative would become highly confident in building customer rapport even over the phone, thereby creating more opportunities for business and success for their company.


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