Customer service has come a long way. Today, it is not just an augmentation of a business but the heart and soul, the first point of contact, and the last resort to salvage customer trust in the organization and its products or services.
Customer service is at times divided based on business models (off-shore and on-shore) and on direction (inbound and outbound). Of this, inbound calls offer a unique opportunity to enhance customer satisfaction, build loyalty and convert prospects.
The major challenge in inbound calls is in its name: it begins with a call by the customer.
It is impossible to know what has happened, what the requirement is, and what an appropriate solution would be. The inbound call could be a query, request for service, placement of an order, complaint, request for a refund, request for technical support, or of some other nature.
Most of the time, a standard handbook could be of immense value. A standard greeting and an introduction are good starters. However, the personalized touch is critical to resolve issues, cross-sell, resell, make up-gradation offers, and build brands.
This could be a good example of a standard conversation for when the customer calls for more information
The Larger Picture
An inbound call offers many challenges which require more than just product or process knowledge. Access to caller data is important so that the history of any conversation is understood beforehand and the customer does not have to needlessly repeat the problem or issue that they are facing.
Communication skills are crucial, for they help you to understand the customer and his/her problem quickly, which is the most crucial factor in an interaction with a customer. This, along with sensitivity, empathy, patience, knowledge, and courage could help you to solve not only the customer’s problem but also help the company brand image move a few notches up and win customer loyalty. (Poor communication skills will result in the exact opposite).
This is a crucial skill that has to be developed all the time and forms the basis of all call center etiquette. Here is a glimpse of what sensitivity means: to avoid hurting someone, make sure it is Mr. Allen and not Ms. Allen; ask if he/she can reveal his/her date of birth before you ask for such details. Maybe he/she is in a conference and such questions are likely to put him/her in an unpleasant situation.
Remember you are not doing a favor to the customer. He/she has already done a favor by showing interest in your products or services and is now spending time, money, and a lot of effort to interact with you.
Another area that requires empathy is handling questions. It is worth revisiting this quote by top Astro-scientist Carl Sagan: “There are naïve questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.
"There are mostly three kinds of callers – those seeking information, the ones reporting some kind of loss, and abusers, but each of those have called you to understand and solve a problem. And the same applies to solutions and answers. No answer is stupid, so start from the basics. For example – a customer called the call center of a major laptop producer. Her complaint was that a newly purchased laptop failed to boot. The customer care executive could not solve the problem for several minutes until the customer was asked: “Did you press the power button and keep it pressed for a few seconds?” That was the problem, a basic one that got complicated for obvious reasons.
Patience: It is vital to hear the customer out and bear with the panic and anger associated with his/her call. Usually, customers know the solutions and it is imperative for call center agents to allow that suggestion or requirement to come out in time.
Knowledge: This requires more than just product/service knowledge. It is general knowledge that needs to be honed. For example, representatives should know the spellings of major locations within the target market, to avoid asking the customer for the spelling, which could cause further irritation.
Enthusiasm: Every response must be answered with energy that matches the urge to listen proactively and solve consumer problems. Energy is contagious and assures the customer that his/her problem will be solved. In contrast, imagine someone with low energy reading out responses or procedures in a monotonous tone. Does that reflect on your company's objective of providing sterling products and services? Obviously not.
However, a constant energy flow in the words might be counterproductive! It is key to listen to the customer and change from politeness to enthusiasm while highlighting keywords.
Courage: This comes into the picture when everything else fails. The courage to admit inefficiency and then transfer the call for a complaint is what will help immensely. Such a trait needs to be developed and also rewarded by the management.
1. Do not waste time – come to the point directly.
2. Do not advise – suggestions are fine, but do not preach. Do not blame the customer for any reason.
3. Do not say “We can’t help” – transfer the call to someone more knowledgeable or call him/her back with a solution or an apology.
4. Do not place the customer on long hold – arrange a call-back instead.
5. Do not ask questions that may embarrass you – such as about age, gender, education, salary, etc.
6. Do not hesitate to praise – “Well done Sir/Madam, you have solved your problem!”
7. Do not delay in sending requested information through email or any other mode of communication.
Last but not the least, remember it is about teamwork. Yes, even in a one-to-one interaction such as in an inbound call, the customers are not interacting with an employee, but the company itself, and a successfully closed inbound call often results in a satisfied customer, closed sales, repeat business, increased loyalty, positive brand referral, and a stronger bottom-line.