Minding your Tone when Dealing with Customers

“Define what your brand stands for, its core values and tone of voice, and then communicate consistently in those terms” – Simon Mainwaring

Research and experiments have shown that the tone used when dealing with customers has a measurable and lasting impact on their perception. Depending on the tone, customers can perceive the brand to be friendly and trustworthy, or the complete opposite of these two traits. When customers connect with a company, they carry with them apprehensions and anxiousness with regard to whether the company would help them and or whether they would be polite and courteous while doing so. The response provided and tone of voice used when responding to customers can completely alter their perception and in today’s competitive environment, no company can afford negative perceptions from customers.

When dealing with customers, over any medium, a company must establish a set of etiquette rules, of which minding the tone should be a major part. For example – over the phone, customers cannot see the person hence body language is completed eliminated. All that remains is the tone and words used to either convey positivity or a feeling of being bored and annoyed by their calls. The entire message that a company / its representatives convey over the phone is conveyed through the tone of voice, and hence minding how you speak to customers can determine whether they would want to call again and associate with your company, or be put off for good. Customers are very quick at perceiving the attitude of the person they are speaking with through the tone of voice – research reveals this happens within the first 10 seconds of making they call, and could either hang up, or approach the company with a negative mind-set that could be extremely hard to change.

Minding your tone when dealing with customers is not only required when speaking with them directly. A big part of the content strategy is about communicating effectively with customers and research shows that despite similar website content, the company that would find favour with customers would have used a ‘tone’ that implies friendliness, empathy, trustworthiness, and a willingness to serve. Based on the ‘tone’ of the content, the readers would either be willing or not to associate with and or recommend the company to others. Minding your tone when dealing with customers is not just basic etiquette, it is good business sense and customer service. Everyone in the organization must be aware of how their tone would affect customers and how they must communicate with customers through verbal and textual communication.

Customer service staff, must in particular, be provided training on written and verbal communication. With written communication, they must understand how the choice of their words, punctuation, and other nuances can alter the tone of their message. They must understand which tone would be best to use depending on a particular customer, her or his emotional state, expectations, and preferences. Through the understanding of how the tone of written communication can alter perceptions, the service staff would be more aware and mindful about what and how they write. This understanding would make a huge difference in the way that customers perceive your company.

Minding your tone when dealing with customers is about choosing the ‘right tone’ and is certainly not a one-off task – it is a consistent and on-going process that must change and evolve depending on the changing needs of the customer base. It is critical for service staff to remain empathetic and polite even when dealing with critical problems and or tough customers. If a customer connects with a company to complain or report a problem, the tone of voice used by the representative must convey understanding rather than feigned interest. Attentive listening is critical in order to grasp completely what the customer may be trying to convey and what they expect at the end of their ‘complaint’. The challenge lies however, in the fact that it is not always possible to know the kind of tone the customer may prefer and in which situation. It would be best to play safe by using a professional, empathetic, and understanding tone in all situations. This would be a neutral tone and possibly the safest for service staff when dealing with customers – across all demographics. However, younger customers do not seem to mind a casual yet empathetic tone – it lends a more human and personalized touch to the communication. All customers for that matter would rather speak to someone who would understand their feelings, and respond to them based on those feelings rather than repeating scripted messages.

Minding your tone is also contextual – you cannot expect a positive reaction from a customer by using a casual tone when they are facing a problem. A survey revealed that at least 78% customers said that it would annoy them if the company representatives used a casual tone to turn down their request. A casual tone is usually interpreted as a callous attitude, used to purposefully hurt and cause distress to the customer. Conversely, only 35% customers said that they would feel satisfied if their request was complied with using a formal tone! It is important for customer service staff to be extremely careful when dealing with customers, especially those who may already be upset and angry – they would be more sensitive to the tone and words used to convey a message than a calm customer would. It would be better to keep a professional and neutral tone, and rely on experience and knowledge to help the customers.

While emoticons, slangs, and abbreviations may have become ‘cool’, it is never acceptable to use these when dealing with customers. Informal words are a strict no-no in the customer service realm – customers expect to be treated well and importantly, and such words can be perceived as the service agent’s attempt to be over-friendly and crossing over the line of business etiquette. It is important to remember that if the customer uses these words, and or sounds informal, it may be acceptable for the service staff to mirror some of that behaviour – even in written communication a smiley may not be out of place. Developing the art of minding the tone when dealing with customers, is one of the most valuable and critical service skills that a service representative can have or acquire.

Another important thing that customer service must be trained in, is smiling over the phone. A smile can actually be ‘seen’ through the phone, and has a great impact on the overall tone of the service agent. The reason for this is that when you smile, the whole demeanour changes, making the voice and tone sound more friendly, receptive, helpful, and warm. However, this too must be used in moderation – an irate customer may not be very happy to be served by a ‘smiling’ service agent since it could be interpreted as making fun or not being serious while listening to their problem.

Dealing with customers is not an easy task, however, using the power of positive words and friendly tone, a company can ensure that customers have many more happy experiences. These experiences will bring customers back and help develop robust and long-term relationships with them. There is possibly no ‘right tone’ for all situations and customers – but a company that is truly committed to serving customers well, will ensure that they find a way to support and serve each customer with the intention of delighting them.

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