Telephone Etiquette in Customer Service – dos and don’t

by | Oct 3, 2014 | Customer Service

“Why are phone skills so important? Because they put money in your pocket!”

The telephone is a wondrous invention. It connects us. For companies – it is about connecting with customers and letting them connect with the customer service staff. A major part of the interactions between customers and companies still take place over the phone and it is becoming increasingly important for the staff to upgrade their telephone etiquette and presentation. It is true – phone skills are important. A warm and helpful tone with a courteous voice has the capability to build customer loyalty while rude and abrasive telephone manners will drive customers away all the way to the competition. Exhibiting telephone etiquette to all callers enhances the customer experience and builds your company’s reputation of having high customer service standards. We all know that more customers and customer loyalty means ‘money in the pocket’.

Regular training and coaching for telephone etiquette in customer service will make for a better team and happier customers. So what can the agents be taught and do to make customers feel special and know that the persons on the other end of the phone actually care:

– Conveying enthusiasm helps. Not crazed overly excited behavior but a controlled yet continued positive approach and genuine listening to the customer. For the agent the issue brought by the customer is probably ‘just one more’ but for the customer it is personal and therefore must be treated so – with importance and a personal touch. Your enthusiasm will reflect from your tone of voice and will be infectious and help to calm the customer.

– Smiling while talking over the phone is very easily ‘visible’ to the customer. When your agents smile their tone will reflect it. Get them to keep a table mirror before them so that they can see how they look when they are speaking with customers and will be a way to remind them to smile.

– Most call centers record customer and agent interactions for training purposes. This works well especially in a high stress environment. Agents must be taught that one of the most important aspects of telephone etiquette is to know how they sound over the phone. For agents who tend to get flustered, the recordings will help to know whether they sound rude, scared or genuinely helpful.

– A courteous and warm opening always helps to lighten the conversation. Customers feel welcome and are more likely to open up about what the real issue is with a calm tone. Customers are the reason your company is in business – you are never allowed to make them feel like they are interrupting your work. Telephone etiquette training will teach you the nuances of the greeting.

– At the end of the conversation, telephone etiquette demands that the customer is duly thanked for calling. The closing is as important as the greeting and it would not hurt to say goodbye or have a nice day. However, say it like it is meant and not a scripted line, minus the emotions, like “hope you have a good day”. Many of us have probably heard this unenthused rote line and got us quite irritated.

– Customer service agents must remember that the customer is not part of your industry. Using technical terms or company jargon is nothing but a waste of time – yours and theirs. In addition, it makes the customer look dumb since they most probably will not understand you and instead of asking you again, would probably hang up in sheer frustration and not call again. Use simple words to explain to the customer and in an unhurried and patient manner.

– An angry customer is probably in their right to be angry and even if it seems unreasonable, the customer service agent is expected to remain calm. This is an essential of customer service and telephone etiquette. Let the customer vent and say everything they want to. It is not like they are mad at you personally and listening attentively with meaningful questions will let them calm down. Be a good listener – very vital telephone etiquette.

– Never transfer a customer’s call before asking them if you can. If you have their permission, ensure that the person, to whom the call will be directed, is available. Never do the hold and transfer ‘dance’ with a customer. They just hate it. They also hate being put on hold repeatedly. Put them on hold to get information for a few seconds. If the information is not complete, let them know that you will call them back and do. If they insist on getting all the information right then, let them know how long it will take i.e. how long they will be on hold. They might ask you to call back if it will take too long – remember to call back with the information and within the time frame that you promise.

– Ensure that the call center has noise cancelling and dampening technology. For customers having to hear all the banter and noise in the background while speaking to one agent is extremely frustrating. The agent too will need to speak loudly which will seem like shouting and will be offensive to a customer.

– Customer service agents must never eat or drink while attending to customer calls. It is just poor telephone etiquette. Actually this is true for any phone conversation. It is an extremely irritating behavior and does not go down well with anyone.

Having mentioned these points unfortunately what is also true is that impatience and time crunch is raising the rudeness levels. This harshness seems to transcend boundaries and everyone seems to be both indulging in it and also putting others at the receiving end. Customers especially hate such negative responses and find it rather insulting to call up such a company after being treated so. Customers would rather walk away reducing your customer base thereby reducing the ‘money in your pocket’. It is common sense.

Just like a list of telephone etiquette, there is a list of things that customers would describe as rude, abrasive and annoying behavior leading them away from a company and to a competitor. Companies must treat such behavior sternly and inculcate a culture that ensures customer service representatives know that these are ‘cardinal sins’ of the customer service realm.

– Telling the customer that something cannot be done as it is not company policy. This comes across as rude and a lame excuse. Does the customer really care about internal policies? If the baseline agent is unable to take a call on the request, it must be referred on to a senior level, who should find a way to fix the problem or convey why something cannot be done.

– A customer is calling the contact center – they are unlikely to know where the call lands. For a customer service agent to say that something is not their job or that this is not their department, instantly puts the customer in a bad mood. We discussed in an earlier exposition, customer service agents must have complete knowledge if not thorough but enough to speak intelligently to a customer. Let the customer know that someone with all the relevant information will call them back and ensure that this happens.

– Asking the customer to call back! This is a real mind boggler. You just cannot do that – as a company, you need to call the customer back if you are unable to service them when they call. If the customer perceives this indolence and lack of empathy, you can be sure that they will not remain customers for too long and will definitely spread the word around.

The list mentioned on these bad manners is not exhaustive. Telephone etiquette in customer service will help retain customers. Displaying a great attitude and courteous behavior with a smiling tone to match goes a long way in building customer relationships. Every time an employee picks up the phone there is a huge potential – of either keeping a customer or sending them rushing out the door to competition. Ensure that as a company you encourage the highest standards of telephone etiquette so that no customer goes unanswered or disappointed.

“Good manners are just a way of showing customers that we have respect for them” – Bill Kelly

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