To be successful in the customer service industry it is important to understand that customer service is all about perception. They need to feel that the server knows what they are doing, is happy to be doing what they are doing, and most importantly glad that they are there.
One of the biggest problems out there in the market today is verbal communication. Everyone knows how to speak but only a few do it skillfully. Here are a few quick tips to improve your verbal communication that will make you sound better and more professional for your next interaction.
1. Choose Words Wisely:
Half of customer interaction is about speaking to them. We must choose our words carefully so as not to offend or dismiss them. Remember, we always want to give the impression that we care about them and that they are important to us.
The basic rule is to speak naturally but properly. Avoid using contractions if you can. Don’t say things like “Yeah, whattya want?” and try not to use any idiomatic expressions or regional words. Not everyone will be from the region you’re working in so words like bubbler, grinder, clicker, and others might not make sense. You want to try and avoid having to explain yourself because confusing the client is the last thing we want to do.
2. Have a Script in Your Head:
It is a good idea to prepare a script or outline for frequently asked questions or information you know you will have to give out on a daily basis. For example: while working at the front desk of a hotel I would constantly have to give directions and suggest restaurants. We also had a shuttle service that needed some pretty lengthy explanation that I had to tell every guest when they checked in.
What I would do is think of about four sentences worth of well packed information and I would say the same thing over and over. With the script in my head I wasn’t stumbling over my words and I had tailored it so that I knew the guests were getting all the information I wanted to give them. Scripts help you to keep consistent and once you get used to them it makes it easier to focus on other aspects of communication.
3. Avoid the use of Slang:
This one ties in to choosing your words wisely. Slang terms vary across culture and geography and some people might have no idea what you’re talking about. The best thing to do is try and be as formal as possible whenever you can. Don’t greet customers with phrases like: “What’s up?” or “Yo, dog.” And sometimes even a “How’s it going?” or “You’re all set.” can be problematic. Stick to the basics of the English language and you should be fine. “Hello,” “Good Bye,” and “Have a nice day” are your fail safes. You can never go wrong when using words or phrases like that.
4. Watch Your Tone, Mister.
Tone is one of the most important factors to verbal communication. The wrong tone can completely throw off the meaning you are trying to convey with your words. An angry tone can turn “Have a nice day” into an insult and that is the opposite of what we want to do.
Always try to keep an upbeat and joyful tone. Raise the tone of your voice just a little bit and try not to sound displeased. A happy service agent makes for a happy customer. Even if the client is irate and screaming your head off, keeping a calm soothing or happy tone will throw them off and in turn calm them down.
5. Speak Steady and Project
No mumbling! Never mumble, ever. If people can’t hear what you’re saying to them they aren’t going to get the information you need to give them. It is best to try and speak at a steady pace, not rapid fire, and project your words. Don’t yell at them, just make sure to speak so that they can hear and understand you properly. This becomes especially important if you have to say some strange slogan all the time that your businesses marketing team came up with.
Put these tips into practice and you should soon find that your customer interactions will become more pleasant and worth while. When people can understand you they aren’t going to get frustrated and chew your head off, they’ll also be on their way faster and finish the business they came to do.
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It’s challenging work answering a customer service hotline at a call center, and very often the customer doesn’t make it any easier. But it’s precisely the fact the caller is looking for answers that gives the agent the advantage: a call is simply an exchange of information, the person with more of it gets to play the authority figure longer. You have more of it, dictate how a call proceeds and you help yourself and your customer.
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More often than not, what happens at the start of a call decides how the rest of it takes place. Show the caller who’s in charge right away, especially when you pick up and the person on the line’s already angry. Start with remembering to speak clearly, that may sound obvious but the purpose is to avoid introducing distractions an angry caller can dwell on.
Speaking in a calm, unaffected voice from the start also makes it easier when you have to be the bearer of bad news: if you have to say something negative, say it right at the beginning. Send the message the company you’re working customer service for treats the customer just as honestly and fairly when they deny a request they can’t grant. If it’s only delayed, reminding the caller to open the conversation lets them know the company is at least paying attention.
Then there’s the possibility the caller misunderstood the problem to the point of exaggerating it, or only needs it explained clearly. In any case, taking the initiative to state the facts, even if the caller doesn’t like them, shows it’s the agent who sets the agenda. Which is your part to do since you have the training; customer service is a job that requires measurable skills. Answering a call is as much about the quality of the service as it is about the experience.
And here’s a tip: always save the good news for last. The timing alone can mean the difference between a caller appreciating a customer service agent for softening the blow, or calling the agent a liar for raising their hopes.
Maybe it will help us more if we don’t stop at customer service and get started on customer engagement. Customer service at least the way some companies understand it, or listen to how some (former) customers feel they cease to exist the moment they call about a complaint. Sometimes companies look all over for a way to improve sales when their greatest resource is right under their noses.
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Everyone will agree word of mouth is gold. But not many look at the price tag: studies show customers look for advice on buying decisions mostly from people they know personally, close to 90 percent in some results. Ads work up to a point by getting the word out, but people open their wallets because a family member or friend told them it’s a good idea.
The same studies agree customers satisfied by a seller’s treatment will spread the word, fully three in four for the most loyal ones. Yes, treatment, as opposed to the product: fairness and respect dealing with a complaint rank higher than product quality when it comes to winning a customer’s loyalty. If a seller leaves a good impression the first time they answer a complaint, people will even overlook defects the next time they happen.
Many of us unconsciouly place a personal stake on our buying decisions, because we buy things that complete our self-image. The thing about self-image is it needs constant reinforcement, or don’t we all wait on friends to comment about how something looks on us after asking the same question before we bought it? People working in customer service know customers will fight fiercely for a representative who makes them feel positive about a purchase, and by extension themselves.
The sad thing is most people treat getting a complaint like it’s the end of the world. But with a little psychology and an earnest attitude to customer service, it could be like getting a new investor. But not a silent partner if they work on it.
Read articles about customer service, and they all recommend making eye contact to win over customers. But is it that simple? Look at it from the customer’s point of view, do you think you could trust a person if you knew they’re using a trick to close a sale?
Pay attention to that one word: “think.” Think, um, about it this way, eye contact is a kind of bodily cue, and people respond to bodily cues unconsciously. Meaning thinking isn’t part of the picture when we smile back at a friendly salesperson. (Why do I get the feeling you knew that already.)
Consider when we shop for computers, we want the fastest processor, and the most memory. This is because each program we run consumes resources, and we need plenty when we’re multitasking.
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Go back to the part about thinking and it’s the same, our brains only handle so many tasks at a time. If it’s busy unconsciously processing bodily cues, there’s less left for conscious, rational thought. Guess we know the answer to that eternal question for impulse buyers, “What was I thinking?” Answer: not much. The salesperson turned off your brain.
No trick, science figured it out. Half of what goes into first impressions come from bodily cues, slightly less than half from the sound of a person’s voice (don’t mumble). The rest of it, the least important, is what a person says.
Hold on, so how do we keep things honest? How do we stop salespersons from taking over the planet? That’s where taking customer service seriously separates the genuine from posers: bodily cues can’t be faked. Our brains will know.
Take that to mean real customer service can’t be faked either. Better salespersons let positive intentions show successfully, because they have them in the first place. Worry more about closing a sale, or cheat our way to one, and bodily cues reveal our secret unconsciously.
Think about it, and eye contact isn’t a trick at all, it’s words in a shared language. Don’t look for anything dishonest about customer service for the customer’s sake. Be honest and you and your customer will see eye to eye. Thank biology.
Every store wants a customer to walk away with good things to say about their customer service. How they meet expectations changes from one store to another. For some, it means much expense and personal attention. But sometimes a store takes second-guessing customers so seriously they wind up imposing their own expectations on anyone walking in.
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I’m very much into music on vinyl. Every weekend I’m at my favorite dealer playing records. One afternoon I was buying a new turntable; I sat in a special room for serious listening trying to decide. Then a customer entered and walked around with his open-back headphones turned-up real loud.
My dealer is knowledgeable and normally a pleasure to talk to. Unsurprisingly for people in our hobby, he’s a perfectionist with strong opinions. Interrupting an audition was a crime in his. My dealer and the customer exchanged words. It got heated to the point other customers walked out.
Soon enough, the customer posted on an online forum. His story was one-sided and inaccurate, but he got what he wanted. The thread was busy for weeks and the store’s reputation suffered. The customer is always right, people shrugged.
What happened was unfair, but my dealer made a mistake. He made it a point to look after longtime customers and I was one of them. But he hadn’t asked my opinion before going after the other person. I would’ve told my dealer to forget it. But he’d made up his mind.
Often the best form of customer service is simply communicating. If it appears one customer is bothering others, always confirm by asking. Don’t leave anyone staring uncomfortably without learning what’s wrong.
But don’t jump the gun on complaints and provoke people if it can be helped. Letting someone unreasonable get away with it sounds unfair, but customer service isn’t about teaching others manners. All that’s asked is we keep ours.
Customer service lives for emergencies. It’s comforting to remember a person who went out of their way to help when we truly needed it. Using the rules as an excuse not to, in that situation, is the worst thing a company can leave in people’s minds to stay.
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Calamities are a fact of daily life in some countries. When a typhoon hit ours, it flooded my house and damaged my car. After trying to call the phone company from neighbors, I walked to a branch to get my service back.
The man at the door asked why I was there. I was wearing slippers and the clothes I saved; he had on a condescending expression. When I explained, he told me to leave because the phone company only took repair requests by phone.
I stood musing his reply: to get my phone fixed, I needed to make a call. I was standing outside the local billing office. I assumed they took visitors, like paying customers. When I pointed this out, the man said I was acting difficult, and reminded me many people lost homes to the flooding.
There I was, a disaster victim, hearing about sensitivity from a person who wouldn’t let me through the door. I would’ve shown him “difficult” if I wasn’t so amused thinking the situation belonged in a Woody Allen movie.
The phone company didn’t think it was funny two weeks later. When I’d had enough, I borrowed a friend’s bandwidth (I got broadband from the same people) to write an email. I told them I was forwarding my thoughts about their customer service to newspapers, TV stations, and my congressman. My phone was ringing the next evening. Someone called to say the man got fired.
Sometimes rules need to be broken to treat a customer like a human being. What’s lost when we forget protocol and provide a customer service we can give ourselves? But those going through a trying time forget nothing; let the thought stick, instead of the rules.
According to Census Bureau data published in September 2004, there were 49,983 Hotels, Motels, Inns and B&B’s in the United States. I work in one of them.
What makes people choose one hotel over another? Many are basically the same and people don’t know about the customer service skills beforehand. Some are so alike that it seems that they were pre-fabricated and assembled to fit in the plot of land purchased for its construction. They have been designed by large companies who put their “Brand” on all the hotels assuring that they have the same food, the same room design and the same basic amenities. So why should your customer choose your hotel over the one a block away? What can you give them that your competitor does not have already?
Many years ago (He died before I was born…) there was a man by the name of William Castle. He had nothing to do with the hotel industry, he made movies. Castle was famous for this, but what he is truly remembered for is for how he marketed them. He knew his movies were not big budget blockbusters, so to bring in the people that would pay to sit in those chairs and watch movies like “The Tingler” and “House on Haunted Hill” he created an experience that they would never forget. For one film, a certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy was handed out to every customer. On another, he had an ambulance stationed outside the theater, just in case someone had a heart attack during the movie. In my favorite, he installed electric buzzers in the theater seats and scared people in to thinking “The Tingler” had escaped in to the theater.
You are probably thinking why am I bringing up some obscure movie whacko who did these things when my point is hotel experiences? Well, I think that is the point. You have to be different to attract people in today’s world. We have come to a point in world history where all businesses are franchises or want to be one. Now that is not necessarily a bad thing. I am happy with the fact that I can travel to the farthest reaches of the planet and stay at a hotel that is clean, safe and at a reasonable price. But the reason that I am in Cucamonga is so I can experience Cucamonga! I do not want to walk in my room and feel like I am in a hotel in Massachusetts where I reside. Castle knew this and made people experience things the others weren’t offering them. Why else would people flock to see a movie advertised as being filmed in “Percepto”!
In the past year I had the opportunity to work with a hotel where I was what was called an “Experience Specialist”. This hotel had a theme, tailored to the hotel and the area it was located. I was tasked with creating a lasting impression in our guests to make sure that they understood that we were not like the other hotels in our area. To create experiences that they would remember and cause them to think of us next time they travel to our city. Why? Because “Why” is the basic question that all hotels must ask themselves. Because that is the question your guests will ask themselves when they have to choose between your hotel and the one 10 minutes away by the same brand. “Why”, is the key to success in a world where I can travel halfway round the planet and walk in to a McDonald’s knowing that it is going to look, feel and taste the same way it does 10 minutes from my home.
And that’s not what I am in Cucamonga to experience…
For this lesson we’re going to focus on some simple things you can do, or what you can have your associates do, to quickly improve on your customer service skills. People use a bunch of different methods for getting ideas across. It is not just the words you say that people hear, there are other factors to take into account. Your body language is at the foundation of all communication. Before the human race could speak with their words, they spoke with their bodies.
It is through body language that the majority of what we say is translated and it is because of this fact that we must take extra care to deliver proper body language to our clients if we want them to feel satisfied with our service.
Here are five simple things you can do to improve your body language and therefore improve your customer service skills as a whole.
5. Keep eye contact:
The easiest way to insure the client knows you are paying attention to them and care about what they have to say is to keep eye contact with them as much as possible. Eye contact says: You’re the only person I’m listening to right now. It is the most overlooked aspect of body language and is easy to forget when you are trying to handle multiple things at once while talking to someone.
You want to try and make eye contact with them as you are speaking and while they are speaking. Don’t stare at them or they might feel awkward. Just try and keep a delicate balance between eye contact and no eye contact. Be friendly and not strange.
4. Cheat out toward the customer:
Theatre and film actors have an important body language tool that the industry can benefit from. It’s called “cheating out” and it basically means to face the front of your body to the camera or audience as much as you can without looking unnatural. This allows the camera to pick up all of the subtle facial expressions and nuances in the actor’s body language and just makes the scene better over all.
Cheat out as you are speaking to guests. Try and make sure you face them with the front of your body as much as you can. You don’t want to turn your back on them or stay turned in profile because that will tell them you aren’t interested in what they have to say. We’re always interested in what they have to say, so make sure they know that.
3. Direct with an open hand:
One of the more subtle techniques to use is to, whenever giving directions to someone, use an open hand gesture. If you point with an index finger or thumb as we do in our every day lives it can come off as rude at times and we want to avoid appearing rude at all times. Open hands are inviting, pointed fingers are dismissive. Your body language will be saying: allow me to show you the way or right this way, instead of: Yeah, just go that way and get out of my face.
2. Maintain good posture:
Posture is one of the most important aspects of body language. As far as communication goes posture is like a short cut to knowing a person’s mood. The best posture is similar to the military’s at ease position.
Keep your spine straight, your legs a little bit apart, and your hands behind your back. This will push your chest out and hopefully keep your chin raised. You never want to slouch or lower your chin as these give off the impression that you’re in a bad or lazy mood and don’t feel like helping anyone.
1. Make sure you smile:
Now, I know what you’re saying. Of course we smile! That’s the first thing we do! Well, I don’t know how many times I have purchased something at a store only to be ushered through the service line with little more than a passing glance and a grunt. Smiling lets them know that you are paying attention to them, it gives them the impression that you truly care and enjoy what you are doing.
Be careful to smile properly as well. Some smiles when done improperly will look forced and disingenuous and that’s the opposite of what you want. Smile with your eyes as well as your mouth. Raise your eyebrows in conjunction with your lips and try to show off your pearly whites. A good smile goes a long way in insuring their satisfaction.
Try implementing these tips in your next interaction and see how they work. You should notice a distinct change in the attitude and well being because you will be properly assuring them that you care about what you’re doing and what they have to say.
It seems to be a trend in corporations these days to establish a baseline “culture” within their organization. It’s called the corporate culture and it is useful in both training employees as well as developing long term loyalties to the corporation.
In simplest terms, a corporate culture is useful in a customer service sense because it goes toward establishing consistency and it also helps to make the employees happy about working for their company. A happy employee makes work life much better and in turn makes for happier cusomers.
If you’re thinking about instituting a corporate culture in your business to help raise productivity and morale there are a few essential concepts you should try to weave into the fabric of the culture. Think of corporate culture less like the iron hand of the major corporation and more like the caressing and guiding hands of a community or organized religion. There are a few factors that all corporate cultures must have in order for them to be beneficial to the company as a whole.
1. Goal Oriented:
The entire point of having a corporate culture is to direct the employee base towards a common goal. We want to achieve great things with our business and the way we do that is to have an goal setting mechanism that is both easy to understand and easy to communicate.
Corporate cultures must be goal oriented from the ground up. The smallest person on the totem pole needs to know that he should have the goal of setting his sites high and climbing the corporate ladder while the higher ups need to have a structured goal set to bring in more revenue.
As it is in life, it is in business. Goals are important and the best way to achieve them is to set them out in a structured way and commit to them.
2. Team Building:
All for one and one for all, that’s the team building motto. We want our employees to try and work with each other the best they can. Team building could be part of your corporate culture by having company picnics or sports teams. The closer knit relationships you have between employees and the company the more likely it will be that employees will work hard to make the company better.
Host regular events and have group discussion meetings. Make sure that you’re company is transparent and tries to include everyone in the major processes. The more an employee feels that he is an essential part of a team the happier he will be to perform for that team. The end result is better performance all around.
3. Take Ownership and Responsibility
It is important for everyone working in a company to feel like they are responsible for something. Empower your employees with your corporate culture and make them feel as though they can make decisions on their own. You also want to make sure that they will fess up to poor decisions they have made and try to learn from them.
We have a saying in the company I currently work for that goes: “I am the problem.” Basically what it asks the employees to do is to first look in the mirror and figure out if there is anything they are doing themselves that is causing a problem in the service. This should be a company wide policy. If everyone is looking at themselves and trying to make their work better, productivity will inevitably improve.
4. Simple Symbolism
How do we get all these ideas across to such a wide landscape of people and backgrounds? Companies today can be huge. People can come from all different walks of life and speak multiple languages. It is important to try and reach a broad audience with your corporate culture and the easiest way to do this is with simple symbolism.
Metaphors and symbols are important tools in your communication tool box. They can be used to express complicated concepts in an easy to understand personal way. For example, for the team building concept it might be prudent to use a symbol like the Goose. When geese fly together they naturally form a V in the sky. They do this because it creates an aerodynamic path of least resistance. There is always a goose up front and whenever he gets tired of slicing through the air another goose steps up to take his place. They all work together for the betterment of their group and all of them are able to fly easier. They work as a team.
5. Help yourself, help the company
People need to know that there is no “I” in team. They need to understand that what’s good for the company is also good for them and vice versa. Incentive programs are perhaps the best way to go about this.
Here’s an example: one of my hotels was trying to push a particular rate program they had just developed. No one was buying it through reservations even though it was such a great deal. The general manager decided to place an incentive at the front desk for anyone who could sell this particular rate. If you sold the rate, you made an extra five dollars each time. This sky-rocketed the revenue from those special rates and the employees were happy to do it.
What’s good for the employee is good for the company.
As you can see, having a solid corporate culture will improve your productivity. Better productivity improves customer service and better customer service improves sales. Try developing a corporate culture of your own and see what happens to your company.
Customer service is a delicate back and forth game between the customer representative and the client. Like any back and forth game there will be times when it is appropriate to attack and there will be times when it is better to defend. Of course, in the customer service world things aren’t so violent. Basically, you need to pay attention and realize when it is necessary for you to speak, when it is necessary for you to listen, and when it is necessary to end the conversation entirely.
In other articles I have discussed methods of improving your customer service skills by changing the way you use your body and language. In this article I will be discussing the ways you can read their body and language to figure out exactly what they are looking for in you.
Use these simple indicators to figure out where you stand with them you are dealing with and decide what your next move should be. Should you help them with something else? Change subjects and suggest a new product? Stop the conversation and move on to another guest? Be more concise? Picking up on your customer’s emotions will help you efficiently take care of them in a way they will be most satisfied.
1. Body Language:
Their body language can tell you a lot about what they need.
If they appear to be wandering aimlessly with a puzzled look on their face, or if they stand near a certain section items with their hands on their hips or fingers at their chin, it might be a good idea to approach them and ask if they could use any help. Chances are that they trying to make a decision about a purchase but needs to know a little more about it which is a perfect opportunity for you to explain things.
If while you’re speaking with a customer they keep turning to the side or if they gradually back away from you, its time to end the conversation. Just say something like: “Let me know if there is anything else I can do for you.” or “Have a nice day” and continue on with another task. This one doesn’t need your help and bothering him further will only make things worth.
2. Tone and Temper:
It is extremely important to listen to your customers. Reading their tone and temperament will enable you to skirt sensitive issues or proceed with caution. It will also allow you to act more casually if the case is right.
React to raised voices and low tones with a calm soothing tone of your own. Stay happy and try to be as helpful as you can. Explain things slowly and try to be appreciative of the their concerns. Hopefully this will avoid any serious conflicts and the problems will dissolve.
3. Subject Matter:
Listen to your customer. I cannot stress this enough. Sometimes they will ask you something when they really just want some general information. When they ask: “Are there any restaurants in walking distance of you?” they are really telling you that they are hungry and looking for something to eat. When you can understand the subject behind the sentence it is much easier to give a well reasoned and adequate answer to any question.
If they starts talking at length about his personal life, he might be lonely. Listen quietly and agree with them whenever they ask you something but don’t be too assertive. You want to be casual and friendly but not too personal. It is always a good idea to keep a certain amount of emotional distance so as not to pry, but if they need someone to listen to them you can provide that. Generate warm fuzzy feelings of compassion in your customer base and you’ll be able to establish reliable bonds and keep them coming back for all of their needs.
Practice listening to them and pay attention to their body language. Eventually you’ll realize that some of the other factors to improving your customer service skills will step in as well. When you’re listening attentively your body posture gets better naturally and your tone will be caring and respectful. Everything works together.