The following is tip #1, Use effective call centers to build customer loyalty, excerpted from Chapter 6 of the book Technology and Customer Service: Profitable Relationship Building, by Paul R. Timm, published by Prentice Hall Publishing.
What you'll learn in this chapter:
- A call center has become an integral part of a complete customer-service strategy.
- Modern call centers are sophisticated multi-person operations supported by telephone and computer technology.
- Telephone strategies can lead to effective customer conversations.
- Key customer-service skills are needed to provide an A-plus experience.
- Call centers will continue to evolve as the e-world expands.
Customer service techniques for building customer loyalty
Call centers offer customer convenience. Without having to trot off to a retail location, the caller can place orders, make reservations, check balances, register complaints, ask questions about products and prices, or clear up a mistake in billing. This convenience comes at a price. Conducting business over the phone is never as personalized as face-to-face interaction. Too many visual cues are missing -- the people can't see whom they are speaking with -- leading to less than complete communication. Then there's what seems like an interminable wait in the call queue or, worse, the handoff to yet another agent who can't really seem to make the problem go away.
The cost of convenience includes impersonal agents, long virtual lines, and the runaround that leaves many customers apprehensive about their chances of successfully resolving difficult concerns on the telephone. Superior customer-service skills can help call center agents overcome caller angst, injecting some personality back into the customer conversation. Andrew O'Driscoll, a consultant with Managing the Service Business, Ltd., suggests seven techniques for creating customer loyalty:
- Build rapport. To engage the customer, build rapport. To build rapport, modify your tone, tempo, vocabulary, and volume to suit the customer's speech patterns. If the caller is an executive, short, direct language may be needed. If the caller is a disgruntled consumer, a warm, friendly approach using simple language may be best.
- Be an optimist. How you phrase what may be received as bad news can really make a difference in the mind of the caller. Cushion the blow by focusing on the bright side of things. The following response will end the conversation: "I'm so sorry. We no longer carry that item." Try this approach instead: "Our product line has recently been upgraded. The item you requested is now available in a new and improved format. Would you like it shipped ground or next-day air?"
- Listen actively. Before call center agents can effectively assist customers, they have to find out what a particular customer wants. This requires listening to what is and isn't said. Agents should use confirmations such as "yes," "I see," and "I understand" as verbal substitutes for the eye contact or head nods of ordinary conversation. Agents should also listen "between the lines" for what is left unsaid. Perhaps there is a special offer or an additional product of which the customer is unaware. Through active listening, agents can create a conversational connection that reassures the caller that someone cares.
- Offer an apology. No one is perfect, and no organization faultless. Mistakes happen, and when they do a sincere and unconditional apology helps defuse an angry caller. What's interesting is that a genuine apology and proper handling of the complaint can increase customer loyalty. In fact, research indicates that if customers feel their concerns are addressed appropriately, 85 percent will continue doing business with the organization. That's even better than the rate for satisfied customers, only 65 percent of which will return for repeat business.
- Stay positive. Listening day in and day out to people you don't even know gripe and complain can be emotionally corrosive. Customers can be, and often are, difficult. They rarely hold back. They think nothing of directing their disappointment, dissatisfaction, and displeasure at you. What can you do to stay upbeat in the face of phone rage? First, avoid the tendency toward "fight or flight." Be proactive. Listen. Put yourself in your customer's shoes. And if the customer continues to be unreasonable, involve your supervisor. Just the thought that someone higher up is now involved will calm many a frustrated customer. Finally, take a break from time to time to blow off steam. A little lunchtime walk or a jog around the track can help you re-center and get back to a positive place.
- Take greater responsibility. All too often, call center agents hide behind the limitations of their computer scripts as a way to avoid dealing with the unusual. For the anticipated, scripts provide an efficient way to conduct customer conversations. It's when the caller has a concern that deviates from the planned that differentiates the A-plus rep from the "robo-agent." A-plus customer service reps can think outside the script. They take the initiative. They assume responsibility for doing whatever it takes to resolve the case.
- Solve the problem. Customers contact call centers because they need help to do something they can't do for themselves. They have a problem. Superior call center agents have been trained in problem solving. They know how to assess need. They know what resources are available for addressing that need. They put together people and resources to get the job done. They involve customers throughout the process by asking, "How can I help solve this problem? What would you like me to do? Is there anything else I can try for you?"
Download the entire chapter for more information on building customer loyalty. This chapter includes application activities to implement loyalty-building practices in your call center, as well as commonly used customer loyalty terms and other useful tips.
Building customer loyalty: Four tips in four minutes
Tip 1: Use effective call centers to build customer loyalty
Tip 2: Offer help desks to build customer loyalty
Tip 3: Apply the power of CRM to build customer loyalty
Tip 4: Design Web sites that build customer loyalty
These chapter excerpts from Technology and Customer Service: Profitable Relationship Building, by Paul R. Timm, are used by permission from Prentice Hall Publishing.