It was the first day. I had got a job in customer service right after graduating. I always loved a good conversation but customer service turned out to be a whole other story. In the first few calls I picked up, I wasn’t expecting the anger and irritation, which was directed towards me. I was confused and afraid; the kind you are when stuck in an uncomfortable situation. I looked towards my colleague, let’s call her Monica who picked up the receiver and handled customers with a panache that would leave me in a trance. Here was someone who I could truly call a professional, talking to customers with an ease I could only dream of acquiring.
She was brilliant in her conversational style- whenever she would put the phone on speaker and talk to a customer, I would listen in with every piece of me paying attention to the conversation. I sensed the customers pleased talking to someone who was more into the conversation than most people. I would look at Monica’s face and see the expressions changing like she was talking to the customer in-person.
I tried to copy her style and take on the same approach. Sadly, I failed; time and time again I would start in the same style as her but the customer would still be venting out his frustration. This made me a bit hopeless, but then the sun shined on me again. The valuable lessons I learned along the way are what I am here to share today.
Many experts say that the customer support representative shouldn’t always read from a script. That holds true for reading from any script, be it yours or your colleagues. Customers want to talk to real people, not to a person reading lines from a script monotonously. Even if you are taking points from a script, do that in your own style.
In the book The Fountainhead, there is an interesting line, which goes, “never ask people, not about your work”. I had to be myself and do work in my own style, rather than trying to become Monica.
But, that philosophy is a hard path to follow; being you in a time when companies focus on a unified message, a particular tone, and a certain way of addressing the customers is as hard as it can get. If you work in the industry of customer service outsourcing, there are more factors, which complicate the situation.
This made me realize another important aspect of the job- the skill of adapting to situations. For this to work in any way, you need to first introspect and self-analyze your personality. I started trying out new methods and observing people around me. I was able to pick up bits and pieces from my seniors and integrated those into my approach.
Personalization Is The Right Choice
While we live in a capitalist culture of delivering the same level of quality or product to customers with a standard service; people want more than that, they want brands to know them for what they are.
If you have delved deep into your personality, try to figure out your customer’s persona. Customers get into a personal conversation with customer service representatives all the time, giving representatives bits and pieces about themselves and their personal life. It isn’t like that always though; sometimes the onus is on you to pick up hints from their tone or observe their behavior in certain situations.
The devil is in the detail, that’s why a good support representative must keep his/her head straight while getting onto it; that is why it taught so seriously in call center outsourcing companies. Use that sharp mind of yours, try to rise above the professional way, and become the customer’s friend. That will help you gain trust and start off a beautiful relationship between the company and the customer. Give them exactly what they need- an active listener and a friendly problem-solver.
Once, a lady told me that I sounded more intelligent than the customers and it makes me look like an arrogant snob. I despised her statement, but she was correct. In effect, she told me that if I wanted to make them feel comfortable, I would have to talk to them as equals; that is the one way to make them feel welcome.
Have you ever had that experience, where you call up customer care when you are unable to resolve a complicated issue? That customer care executive just babbles out technical jargon, which you are unable to understand. Maybe they are technically correct, but too complex an issue requires that simple a method to resolve it. That is a hard task, and you need to speak the customer’s language if you are targeting successful resolution and clear communication.
We have all been through this — you go to a bank, you ask for something and there they come those seemingly infinite minutes of waiting; the eternal sound of the keys being typed away on the keyboard; the mysterious looks the cashier gives the computer screen from time to time. By the time it ends, in my mind, I’m going to be told I either have no money on my account or that I owe the bank a lot of money.
Pass On The Knowledge
We have all suffered a case of terrible customer service once in our lives- you call up your bank customer support to understand why you have been imposed with those hefty interest charges you see on your statement. Instead of offering any explanation, the customer support agent asks to put you on hold. Those minutes of waiting, listening to the monotonous hold music seem infinite when you are guessing whether the agent would come back to tell you that there indeed was a mistake and it would be taken off or would come to justify those charges quoting hidden terms and conditions one never reads.
Procedures and processes are essential to customer support; they are cogs in the machine, which facilitates a customer’s satisfaction. Which piece of knowledge should be stored? Where will it be sent? Queries, issues, escalations; all this is a vital part of a service representative’s life. When you have gone through the process a lot of times, it sort of becomes ingrained in your system and you don’t give a second thought to it before taking any action. While you are going through it all, the customer feels left out of the loop because they don’t have any idea how the issue is getting resolved.
In all the experience I have mustered in customer service- one aspect is as much ignored as it is important, keeping your customers in the loop. Resolving an issue may require involving different departments and executives to come up with a solution. Your customer doesn’t know that and will appreciate any piece of information you can pass on rather than going the ‘we are looking into it’ way. Tell them how the process works so they know what to expect from you and when to expect it. If they keep on asking questions, clarify each point. Remember, adaptation is necessary for survival.
There might be more to it than you can think; answering the questions of customers regarding your process will help you look at the process from an outsider’s view and help come up with alternative solutions to improve the process altogether.
Here For You, Always
Businesses tend to avoid using the term ‘problem’ when customers approach them with one. They would rather describe it as a ‘situation’ a ‘hiccup’, a ‘complication’, or an ‘issue’. No matter what your choice of words is, there is no way to negate the fact that customers email, call, or chat with you because they are facing a problem and they are looking for a solution and are looking for an assurance that they will get one.
This is the reason transparency in the process is of paramount importance. Talking to customers like they are people you meet every day, crafting your approach along the same lines, and explaining the whole process to them will make them feel special and trust you at the same time.
This is my whole experience explained in a nutshell. My mantra is to search your soul, know who you are, and then build from there. Secondly, know who your customers are, how they think, and customize your approach based on that. Lastly, keep them in the loop by explaining every bit of the process. Share the information you have, that is the first step of giving people to the people.