Some people believe it is the easiest way to quickly get their problems solved, while many others simply hate hanging on the phone. It’s the caller’s attitude that makes phone support so challenging.
Growing creates additional needs
Markets and audiences’ size determine support tools. Smaller businesses start slow and usually without paying much attention to details such as customer service – website design, search engine optimization and advertisement tend to be more important than email address or phone number clearly visible on the website. Lack of a toll-free number, unreliable free chat widget and no dedicated people to answer the question. Does it seem familiar? I hope not!
Fortunately, this sad picture changes over time when business owners realize they need to care about much more than just sales and financial results. When this moment comes, the company opens up for customers – adds dedicated tools for managing customer emails, installs online chat software on the website, creates social media profile on Facebook or Twitter or simply starts in the most usual and traditional way – sets up an additional phone line for customer support.
The phone is ringing
Everything seems to be going right until first angry customers call with their issues. It might seem obvious, but the very first thing you need to do to improve your phone support is to pick up the phone! It should not ring more than 3 times before being answered, so even if you are not the one who’s responsible for it – do not ignore it and do not hesitate – pick it up if there’s no one else around.
Phone call still is the most popular way of getting support, because (at least theoretically) it gives customers the biggest chance of having their problem solved immediately.
Thank you for calling, how may I help you?
Although the Internet is full of best practices for phone support or call center guidelines, following the common sense is the right beginning. Identifying yourself and the company when picking up a phone and speaking clearly (should I mention no eating or chewing gum is allowed?) with a pleasant and polite tone will help you with starting a decent conversation.
There’s a big chance that the calling person will only ask several questions about your offer and services. Sometimes details like product availability or delivery time need to be clarified and good old phone seems like a right choice – cases like that are easy if you know your company and its procedures.
Placing customer on hold and transferring should be done only when there is no other choice and preceded by asking for permission. However, if there’s a chance that the wait time will be too long, it is better to ask for the name, number and the message to pass. The most important part though is to make sure that someone actually calls back the customer.
Put yourself in caller’s shoes
Answering the call is all about understanding the point of view of the caller and realizing where the issue is.
Kory Salsbury, an IT specialist with over 10 years of experience, described several crazy phone calls he was a part of in the article for InfoWorld. One of them involved an Indian gentleman who had very little familiarity with computers and who would call with extremely naive questions.
“One evening after hours, he called and left a message that mystified us all: “The ball is bouncing. It is bouncing. And exploding!” he exclaimed in his endearing accent. When I called him back the next day, he repeated the story, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he meant. He just kept saying, “The ball is bouncing, the ball is exploding!” During the call, a number of my coworkers collected outside of my cubicle, listening to the conversation, trying to supply tips, and giggling quietly. Then it dawned on me. The screen saver! – set by someone to the ‘bouncing ball’ that shatters when it ‘hits’ the screen edges. I asked him to move the mouse. “What mouse? There is no mouse!” he exclaimed. “Press the space bar,” I said. “Oh! The ball went away!” he cheered.”
Making the person on the line comfortable and allowing him/her to take the time to describe the issue while we provide some knowledge about the subject is a natural way of gaining trust. That helps with going through the resolution process together with the customer.
Keep your nerves down
There are moments when the relation between a caller and an operator is more tense. Try to be prepared – think ahead and minimize the negative emotions connected with phone support. Avoid incompetent employees picking it up, putting people on hold, playing annoying music and constantly transferring visitors. People appreciate calling back with a solution instead of keeping them hanging on the line. If they really have to wait, they’d rather listen to relevant information instead of silly tunes or even worse – silence. Fred Reinheld of Bain&Company brought up an example of Rackspace hosting company in his entry on HBR Blog:
“An employee on the phone with a customer during a marathon troubleshooting session heard the customer tell someone in the background that they were getting hungry. As she tells it, “So I put them on hold, and I ordered them a pizza. About 30 minutes later we were still on the phone, and there was a knock on their door. I told them to go answer it because it was pizza! They were so excited!”
Obviously I am not telling you to buy pizzas for all of your callers (although probably they wouldn’t mind). But doing a bit more than expected can give you an edge in overcoming what the actual issue was.
Phone used to be a must-have support tool. And even though running an online company may seems a bit different from traditional business, the customers out there still reach for their phones to call you. I hope this post will help you handle them better.