Customer Support Phone Etiquette

“In order to balance the good with the bad, we must get back in touch with our business etiquette. We must learn to integrate the new technology with the old way of doing things.”

There was a time when there was just a basic and minimum amount of technology. We survived without it but now with the enhanced usage and different technology available, our business world and society at large has moved ahead. With the advantages there are some inherent disadvantages that could be potentially disastrous. Every telephone connection, or other types of connection that a customer makes with the company has the potential to contribute to the profit of the company or make the company look bad, thereby losing customers. The phone etiquette tips mentioned in this exposition might seem obvious and could elicit “yes it is common sense” – howevever, these common sense facts are the ones that are most often ignored

Almost every business uses customer support staff and also knows that they are the face of the business. It becomes imperative therefore to adequately train and educate the customer support agents on the best practices in phone etiquette. Just as a professional image is important when interacting with customers face to face, maintaining this demeanour is equally vital over the phone too. Phone etiquette is the first and most crucial step to building a rapport and sustainable relationship with all customers. This ensures that they not only keep coming back to provide repeated business but your company becomes almost indispensable to them and their business, as they come to trust you over time. What steps does your company take to ensure that everyone in the company maintains phone etiquette at all times and that your customer support staff is adequately trained to deal with a diverse customer base and is aware of what constitutes phone etiquette when managing people of different backgrounds?

Even before understanding the details and finer points of phone etiquette, it is important to understand that the manner of speaking i.e. the voice of the person. This reflects the overall demeanour and approach of the person and even if the person does not intend to be rude, a poor tone or raised pitch can convey the opposite. Teaching customer support staff how to use words, correct tone, when to stress on words to convey an important point and the speed at which they must speak – all put together would make for phone etiquette. The customer service representatives must sound confident and knowledgeable without seeming haughty, discourteous and hurried.  The tone of voice for example – can easily convey to the customer whether the customer support person really would like to help or is just doing their job of answering ‘yet another call’.  Modulating ones voice allows the support staff to emphasize words and phrases that might be important to customer and therefore would keep the customer interested and engaged during the conversation. To maintain phone etiquette it is important to remember to speak clearly and slowly or at least match the speed of speaking of the customer. Speaking politely or sounding polite does not mean that one’s voice is too soft – that is almost inaudible. Neither must they speak too loudly as that can irritate customers too.

It is not easy to say whether companies became more customer-focused and hence customer expectations have risen or whether customer expectations rose with increased ability to learn more and help themselves through self-service techniques. Whatever the reason, the fact is that customer expectations have risen sharply and how a company keeps pace with these expectations will determine whether the customer stays with them or not. Among the other realms of great customer service, phone etiquette and support quality through the phone must be continually monitored and bettered. The first connection customers normally make with a company is through the phone and the kind of service they receive via this medium will decide whether they stay or not.  Let’s review some important but very often ignored aspects that constitute phone etiquette. Keeping these in mind, your customer support staff will be able to set the stage for long term customer relationships by moving a simple query to the next level of conversion to business.

– It may seem obvious but still it is worth mentioning at the top of the heap that remaining courteous and polite at all times is a crucial aspect of phone etiquette. This includes showing enthusiasm and smiling while talking such that the customer can ‘see’ that their call is welcomed and will be treated with the utmost respect. It is vital to ask the caller’s name and address them either by their first name or family name, depending on the preference of the customer and also ensure that the name is pronounced correctly. In various cultures, people are extremely sensitive about how they are addressed. Being polite and having a pleasant tone also serves to calm a customer who may be calling to complain. This first interaction often proves to be a deciding factor in whether the customer calls back and gives business to the company.

– Post the opening greetings and courtesies, the customer service staff must understand that they must display unfeigned interest in the customer’s issue. Companies must ensure that all customer data is readily available and even if the person is a first time caller, the customer service staff has adequate knowledge of the company and the offerings and are adept at speedily picking up on the possible need of the customer. Displaying such a demeanour not only comprises good phone etiquette but also seeks to tell the customer that they are important and will receive the care and service that they seek all through their journey with the company.

– Even though customer service staff must smile and extend courtesies, they must remain within the boundaries of professionalism. Phone etiquette is about ensuring that they refrain from using jargon, slangs and must also convey the values and culture of the company. Eating, drinking or speaking with colleagues while speaking with customers are potentially disastrous actions – they convey to the customer that you have something more important and that their call is being taken lightly. All customers must be treated with respect and phone etiquette comprises of active listening skills – wherein the customer service person also picks up on non-verbal cues – a person could be speaking calm words but their tone and pace could be conveying hurry or distress. Listening for these allows the customer service person to respond accordingly and put the caller at ease.

– Another aspect of customer service and phone etiquette is never to lie to a customer. Let them know the situation upfront and never make up answers just because you think that you must provide one. Customers are happier being told the truth, with politeness and they would be happy to either receive a call back or even call back at a later stage when an answer is possible. Customers are able to perceive when they are being lied to or being told half-truths.

There are a number of other ways to display phone etiquette and it is the company’s responsibility to provide training and an environment that allows the customer service representatives to work at their optimum. Providing great support and exhibiting phone etiquette must be given the importance it deserves and must become a priority if not already so in your company. It would be good to define and provide clearly written guidelines for them as to what constitutes great phone etiquette and the importance of adhering to these guidelines. Phone etiquette can improve and build the image of your company or cause customers to believe that your company does not care about its customers and their issues.

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