The Customer Experience and the Phone

customer service on the phones

The Customer Experience and the Phone

Yes, some people still use their phones for things other than just texting, social media, and games. How your team handles inbound customer calls is often an opportunity that gets overlooked for some otherwise well-meaning businesses.

If you’re wondering how this valuable skillset could ever be overlooked, consider that the lowest paid positions in many companies are those that answer phones and greet customers. For members of your team who greet customers in person, much of their impact on the customer experience was handled in the last post.

In this post we’re going to tackle how to ensure a great customer experience over the phone.

Anyone answering the phones at your company often makes the first impression on a new customer. Moreover, until a call is transferred, they are also the public face of your company, and currently (for that customer’s experience) the most important person your company employs.

If they drop the ball, you may never get a second chance.

The Customer’s Clock

From earlier posts in this series, you should already have a good understanding of the Customer’s Clock and how their perception of time impacts the overall experience with you. Given this, how long does the average customer expect to wait on hold to speak to someone in your organization? Resolve an issue?

Pick any business you might need to call. How long do you expect to be on hold?

How long before you become annoyed? (Your Customer Clock is ticking.)

How long before you hang up? (Everyone hangs up… eventually.)

Would you call back? (Some people never call back after hanging up while on hold.)

The customer on hold doesn’t know or care what your team is doing while they wait. They only know and care that they’re not being served. When we think about the importance of first impressions (from the last post) and how starting off on the right path helps us exceed expectations (from the post covering Exceeding Customer Expectations), understanding the consequences of improperly handling inbound calls becomes clear.

Telephone Challenges

Speaking with a potential new customer or unhappy current customer over the phone presents unique challenges not experienced when speaking face to face. We can’t (and they can’t) see facial expressions or body language; plus, there’s no eye contact.

Couple these issues with accents or speech that is slurred, too slow or too fast, or even common audio quality issues, and it’s easy to see how your team can unintentionally create a negative customer experience (or exacerbate an existing one).

Misunderstandings over the phone are common, though all are avoidable.

Some Easy-to-Follow Guidelines

CX juggernauts do not solely succeed in creating great customer experiences in person or online or via the phone, they’re successful across all customer interaction channels. To ensure your quest to become a CX juggernaut doesn’t get sidetracked by poor phone skills, here are some easy-to-follow guidelines for anyone in your organization who speaks with customers over the phone.

  1. Limit your company’s use of phone trees. If practical, have a qualified human handling your inbound customer calls.
  2. The acceptable standard for answering inbound calls should be two or fewer rings.
  3. Encourage those answering phones to smile when speaking with customers. Smiling while speaking on the phone accomplishes two goals:
    1. Smiling can put the caller at ease because your tone perceptibly changes when you smile.
    2. Smiling can put you in a better mood.
  4. To help remind your team to smile, you may want to employ an old-school salesperson trick, and position a small mirror near their phones.
  5. Limit hold times, as time is perceived differently by the caller. This can often be accomplished by technology that rings back when a customer has been on hold for a given amount of time.
  6. Encourage your team to create the habit of jotting down what the caller has told them. This can eliminate the need to ask the customer to repeat themselves – something that can be frustrating for most customers.
  7. The perfect customer phone call employs a different three E’s than we introduced in the Understanding Today’s Customer post. In this case, whoever you have answering the phone needs to remember to Enunciate with Enthusiasm so they can be Effective.

The Four Rules for Phones

We’ll wrap up this post with our four rules for anyone who answers calls for your company. Unlike the list above, these are not guidelines, these are rules. If someone cannot follow these four rules, they simply should not be handling your customer inquiries over the phone.

Rule #1: Love the ringing phone. When the phone rings, it’s a good thing. It’s job security. If the phone stopped ringing, their position would be eliminated. If they don’t love the ringing phone today, they need to (quickly) learn to love it.

Rule #2: Love the job. If they want to be a receptionist/parts counterperson/service advisor/salesperson/title clerk forever, they need to love their job. If their goal is to advance in the organization, they need to love their job. If they’re not sure what they want to do with their life, they should still love their job, at least for the sake of their own mental well-being.

No one wants to deal with a person who hates their job, and the customer can feel this over the phone. Moreover, their prospects for continued employment or promotion within your company are nil if they don’t love their current job. Opportunities grow for those who happily excel in their current roles – no one wants to promote a wet blanket.

Rule #3: Leave the negativity at home. Certainly, it’s not easy for employees to simply forget their personal issues while at work, but for the sake of your customers’ experience with you, it’s imperative that negative attitudes created by personal issues do not bleed into customer interactions.

Given that negativity breeds negativity, and that those looking for sympathy from coworkers may often find themselves seeking sympathy from customers, it’s caustic to have negative people in your workplace, period.

If you directly manage someone like this, refocusing their efforts towards a dedication to their customers can be effective, as dedication at work can often help resolve home issues.

Rule #4: Serving the customer must become their passion. The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer. This requires an understanding for all frontline employees that their job is not to scold, correct, or try to teach customers a lesson. For the frontline folks answering your phones, their only job is to cheerfully meet the customer’s needs or help them speak to whomever it is they need.

This post is part of a series of excerpts from Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience, a book written for everyone in any organization that has customers. That is, it was written for those in both the public and private sector; and for everyone in these organizations. From the frontline, customer-facing employees to the CEO and board of directors.

Each chapter in Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience concludes with Key Learnings and Chapter Exercises to make certain you and your team take the efficient path to becoming Customer-First. As you’ll learn in this ridiculously short book, building and maintaining a CX juggernaut isn’t hard… in fact, it’s ridiculously simple. Buy it now on Amazon!